Sunday, February 01, 2009

FROM THIS SAFE DISTANCE

There's a house at the corner of Santo Rosario Drive in Baguio that I walk by every day on my way home from work, and every day, glancing at the home, at the empty yard that lies to the left of the main entrance, I imagine a group of kids goofing off on a jungle gym that is no longer there.

A couple of years back I taught some kids there for a few months. A winter camp for ESL students from Korea. I remember one specific day in particular. I left work around five to walk home. I glanced at the set of make-shift metal climbers the kids were lazily, languidly draping themselves around. They all looked so young and happy and goofy and great. All the time in the world, they had. They waved good-bye. I waved good-bye. They went back to playing. I headed towards home, hurrying against the quickly falling dusk. I glanced back and told myself to remember that moment.

I often do that: Remember this moment. That's my miniature mantra. I use it to focus myself, to harness my faulty memory so that a particular slice of life will not fall through the creaky cracks of my subconscious. Some moments are so clearly revelatory that there is no need for a forced reminder. Those are usually the monster moments, the life-changing moments, super-sized, the made-for-TV-revelations that soon give way to the inevitable commercial break which constitutes most of our routine lives.

It's the other moments that I tend to stress to myself, to highlight and put in italics, the ones that are ordinary and completely unoriginal in the context of my life, but that nevertheless seem to somehow hint at something wonderful or unusual, ecstatic or gloomy. If I forget this, I will think, then some small part of me will die.

Like those kids on the jungle-gym. They were friends, doing what friends did: fight with each other, laugh with each other, punch each other in the gut and then cry for mercy or forgiveness. I would watch them, and quite often I wanted to take them aside and say: "You have to remember these moments. These silly moments. Because soon you will go back to Korea and you will not see these friends again, perhaps ever. They will go to their city, and you will go to yours, and all you will have between you are these moments of sunshine in the mountain city of Baguio in a country far from your own. There will be moments post-adolescence when you will wake up in the pitch-black midnight dark during a restless night of non-sleep, and you will suddenly recollect the faces of these friends, but their names will be gone, and part of your twelve-year old self will also have been carried away, and so it's crucial that you imprint these moments somewhere inside of you. You are twelve, and the air is warm, and the breeze is cool, and you will never be with these group of friends again. It's important that you link yourselves to them within yourself. Time does not linger."

Of course, I never said such things.

Why would they listen to an old man like me? I think.

And why should they understand? Age eleven, age twelve, have their own sets of rules, most of which I've forgotten in my rush to adulthood.

Almost every time I walk by that house and see that empty yard I think of that moment, though. The jungle gym is gone. Those kids, whose names I can no longer recall, are scattered somewhere across Korea, strangers to each other.

At thirty-three, I sit and type these words. Often I imagine an older man, fifty or sixty, seventy or eighty, wrinkled and old, counting the days of his life. He watches me go about my simple, daily life. Eating dinner and browsing through bookstores and typing in my blog at this Internet cafe on Session Road. He is watching me, this man is, remembering what thirty-three was like so long ago. Skeptical and disheartened by my seeming nonchalance about life itself. He wants to buy me a coffee, and lean in close, and tell me to look around, and take a mental snapshot, and force me to realize once and forever that this is as good as it gets. I imagine him hesitant to approach. "It's okay," I want to say. "Come closer. Tell me what I need to know. Show me the moments I need to remember. I will listen, and I will not laugh."

But he always hurries off without saying a word.

Who would listen to an old man like him? he thinks.

Leaving me alone with my own selfish thoughts, I imagine him leaving my sight, slowly fading with each hesitant step into the soft, tangerine dusk as he shuffles towards the long and uphill incline of Session Road, and I'm somewhat startled to realize that, from this safe distance, he looks almost exactly like myself.

2 comments:

Noi said...

I really like this post, the language, tone and the pictures you paint in my head.

I find myself doing the same thing - "Remember this moment..." - I also have what I refer to as "Perfect Moments", which are less about life being truly perfect, and more about times when I feel wholly content and well, 'whole'. They usually happen at the most mundane times, but still do not come often enough.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Scott. It takes me back to the day I rode shotgun in an Air Force mail truck going from Clark Air Base to Baguio.

This was a few years before you were born. But the moment will always be there.

I probably passed that same yard not realizing I would read about it again on something called the internet decades later.