You always know when you’re experiencing something for the first time. But you can never be sure when it’s the last. After a certain age, most things take on an elegiac cast. Only later can you look back and recognize a final moment for what it was. And you always wish you’d paid more attention.
The older I get, the more I wonder about those last times, and the diminishing list of things I can take for granted.
We went skiing in Utah at the beginning of 2020. That seems a long time ago. It was before Covid, before I turned 70, before it began to seem that the world I grew up in might also have reached its sell-by date. Leaning on my poles in the dry cold of 11,000 feet, I briefly wondered if this could be my last time on the slopes. I had no health reason to think so, and don’t now. But roads diverge, as the poet said. Way leads on to way.
Or, to invoke a different poet: Things fall apart.
Boy, do they. Aches and ailments multiply, beloved pets pass on, favorite people fade away. The inevitable personal travails are hard enough to manage without a ceaseless pandemic, ceaseless climate disasters, the rising possibility of civil or world war. All while the nuts and Nazis among us jeer and chant their slogans. All while blithe billionaires cavort in low earth orbit, or ply the dying seas on their super-yachts.
What a country. I’m grateful its best years and my own have mostly coincided. I admit that being male and white hasn’t hurt. I regret that I won’t be around to see how the definitive history of this time is written. It will be interesting — in the manner of that old Chinese curse. I have my predictions, of course, but I’ve been wrong before — actually around 75 percent of the time.
Anyway, as the night comes on you focus less on the outside world and more on the inner one. October of 2019 turned out to be my final visit at my Mom’s home near Emigrant, Mont. I wanted to get an early start, but she insisted on cooking breakfast as she did most every morning of her life. Now she can no longer live independently, and most of her memories are gone. When I drove down her driveway that cold fall morning, I didn’t know it would be for the last time.
You never know, do you? You just keep going, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Things don’t change, and then suddenly they do. Scarcity increases the value of most everything. Including our finite moments on this island Earth. Too bad it takes so long to really start paying attention.