Friday, June 12, 2009


Author Ray Bradbury, who will be 89 this August, once remarked that when he was a boy, a visit to the relatives meant a visit to the graveyard. It was a pre-birth-control era of large families, and it was unlikely that all of one's siblings would make it to adulthood. Modern medicine in 1920 was just beginning to make to make serious headway against common diseases and infections, and something curable a quarter-century later with simple penicillin could very well be fatal. He said the greatest changes in social attitudes in his lifetime have come from the increasing insulation of modern life from everyday connection to death. Violence in video games doesn’t count, since we know that is as much a fantasy as the aliens and zombies shooting back at our avatars in the games; if anything, it adds to the sense of detachment. We no longer expect to lose friends and relatives in real life before they are old. It happens, of course, for any number of reasons, but we no longer expect it. We often forget about our own mortality altogether, until blindsided by some event that that forces our awareness.

This surely has much to do with the abundance of Peter Pans and Wendys running about with graying hair. If life is neverending, there is not much need to look at the clock to see what time it is. Perhaps paying attention to time is a definition of maturity. I know I didn't begin to grow up until I started to lose those close to me, and I haven't finished the job even at this late stage. Fortunately, having avoided taking on such adult responsibilities as were avoidable (fatherhood being the big one), I've been able to dodge most of the dire consequences of a Never-never-land existence so far, though no doubt I've missed some benefits too.

This is not entirely a bad thing. Perhaps the old saw "Live each day as if it were your last" should be modified to "Live each day as if it were your first." After all, it probably won't be your last and you'll be stuck paying for the party. Nevertheless, perhaps we also should remember, at least occasionally, that there really is a clock. None of us knows to what time the alarm is set, but we often can make an educated guess.

In another week or so on the summer solstice, nature's clock, I’ll sit out back and toast time – if I remember to look at the calendar. How about you?

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