|My fourth birthday in 1959, St. Paul|
My own birthday is today, Saturday, Jan. 28. While today's date may not "live in infamy," as FDR put it, there is a sobering distinction. It was on this date when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up. People with this kind of birthday are reminded of the sad aspect by the media. We reflect with a note of sympathy. Then we reflect on ourselves and our own lives.
At age 62 I no longer have aversion or mixed thoughts about being a "senior citizen." Today I'm eligible to collect Social Security. Maybe I should start getting those checks before the Republican majority dismantles this and other entitlement programs. Republicans are always determined to do this. Give them a chance and they will undo the New Deal.
But I don't wish to focus on politics. Let's try to be a little more transcendent. On this occasion I wish to revive memories of a philosophical and reflective song. It dates back to the late 1970s. People my age realize what a different time that was. It was totally pre-digital. I might emphasize that life moved so very slow. Those were not optimistic times. We embraced irreverent humor a lot. Consider "The Gong Show" on TV with Chuck Barris.
The song I wish to exhibit is "Time Passages," a 1978 hit that had such a gentle feel. Singer-songwriter Al Stewart gave us "Time Passages" along with "Year of the Cat." These were ubiquitous songs on the radio.
Nostalgia is suggested in "Time Passages" but it's not a blunt message. Let's say it's nuanced and open to interpretation. This shroud of indirectness is a stamp of a masterful poet or song wordsmith. We are forced to think about how we consider our past.
Shall we consider alternate routes we might have taken? Or more importantly, should we wonder how certain friends need not have been so transitory? We wonder about past significant others or potential significant others. They linger in our thoughts. We ponder significant others, potential significant others and even imagined significant others. The latter is the most intriguing.
We think of our tangible accomplishments and possessions. We begin to wonder how truly valuable they are, if we ought to cling to our more intangible assets: our friends and faith etc. We watch cable TV news and are informed of the stock market's performance up to the minute. Are we really so gripped by that? Even if a bull market surges, does it really make us happier? Or are we clutching this "bling" that gives only an illusory sense of prosperity/security?
The Al Stewart song says "the things you lean on are the things that don't last." We needn't spend our limited time in this existence seeking to accumulate beyond our necessities. More than anything, I think Stewart is prodding us to find in our memories a gem of a relationship that might have been polished further. We all have someone like this lodged in our thoughts, right?
Do I dare make a confession like this? I'll say I knew a girl from Iowa, blond hair and a bit tomboyish, who played the trumpet in a time when female trumpet players were rare. I was annoyed by how certain instruments in the band seemed gender-specific. My first instrument was the French horn and I began to realize it was a female-dominated instrument. Buy why? Today I don't see why it should be. Once I learned the trumpet for marching band purposes, I began to gravitate toward it, and maybe my new preference was based on alleviating the gender association.
But the trumpet enabled me to meet my Iowa acquaintance. We sat side by side in an endeavor. Years later when the Internet came along with its boundless possibilities, I was intrigued by being able to look up just about anyone. George and Connie at Don's Cafe were on the ground floor for harnessing the web's possibilities. I think it was with this help that I looked up my old friend. We corresponded, writing letters of fair substance. She was married at the time but that changed.
It was so perfect from my standpoint that she took back her maiden name. I would always think of her with that maiden name. Perhaps "maiden" is a sexist term and I ought to opt for "birth name" or something.
Our correspondence tailed off and that might have been primarily my doing. We lived so far apart. At the time I was absorbed in my media work. Today I'm absorbed with domestic responsibilities. I view the potential bond through a fog of unreality. Or maybe I'm too cautious to break the chains of obligations that seem to have me frozen.
Such are the thoughts that are consistent with the song "Time Passages." In a sense, the song does have the type of cynicism that we associate with the 1970s. Stewart writes about a transitory old acquaintance who seems "just out of sight," in other words, seen through a blur of speculation only: "what might have been."
The lyrics bring to light one special relationship, a lover, a friend forgotten and lost over the years. Time has pushed this person "just out of sight." We deem the person "worth going back for."
Stewart pleads in the song: "Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight." We wonder if we can get on that train and secure a relationship with that one special person. It's such a safe place in our thoughts, a haven in which we are soothed by that person. Don't we all have such thoughts? And aren't we realistic enough to know we must deal with reality, the present?
Stewart in fact makes us realize through his thicket of reflective thoughts that time moves forward, seemingly faster as the years pass. People like me who stumble into Social Security age realize we don't have the luxury of not making use of the days we have in front of us. Social Security gives me the confidence that I can at least eat. Memories never leave us, alas. I think of my Iowa friend as the lyrics roll by:
In these time passages, I know you're in there
It was early in the morning and so peaceful with only the sound of the Stewart song getting my attention. It was the late '70s. In that moment there was no room for cynicism, just contentment.
If I see my father in heaven, we will certainly do something other than go hunting.
Never forget these words: