I made no post yesterday evening, except for the silly link, and a couple of comments. It was an odd day. I didn't go to my high school reunion last September -- in fact I've never been to any of them -- but this time I sprung for the booklet they published, with pictures of those who attended. It arrived in the mail yesterday. It was full of geezers. I didn't know most of those people, and most of the few I did know I would now not recognize if I saw them on the street. One of the few exceptions is a teacher whose class I was never in. She looks much less changed than do my peers.
It is odd that I've never before noticed how, as we age, the rate at which we change slows. Well, it's obvious when you are looking at children, who change rapidly. But people change more from 20 to 30 than they do from 30 to 40, and with each decade the rate of change seems to slow a bit. It's rather difficult to tell an octogenarian from a nonagenarian. They're just plain old, and the decade's difference is insignificant. My former classmates are now middle aged adults, and resemble, at most, caricatures of their younger selves. Mrs. Winters, on the other hand, is an elderly lady in whom the middle aged adult I remember is yet recognizable.
I dug out my old, black and white senior class picture, some four hundred of us arranged in ranks on the west lawn of the school on a bright spring afternoon. It is an array of young faces and white shirts and blouses, with a handful of non-conforming vests and sweaters and jackets. The backs of the group are reflected dimly, distorted and broken into fragments, in the windows of the building behind us. We are squinting against the light. I am second from the left, in the second row, sitting on the ground, my face partly blocked by the girl in front of me who leaned to one side just as the picture was being taken. I have no recollection of who she was.
That moment is sharp in my memory, sitting on the lawn, looking up at the photographer with his moving panoramic camera on a dais built for the occasion. I remember hearing the instructions to remain still while the camera was moving, and the crowd falling silent, and, oddly, I remember that a car passing along the street behind the photographer was a yellow 1951 Studebaker, and I was thinking Wow, what an antique! I had no idea. And yet, though the memory of that moment is so clear in my mind, on looking at this picture, I might be seeing some relic of a vanished civilization, and experiencing the memories of one of its long-dead citizens. That is how strange it seems to me now -- strange that something so familiar could be so changed, and strange that yesterday should be so distant. I think that this is the first time I have fully realized that we were just kids.
After looking at that picture, and the recent photographs in the reunion booklet, I spent the rest of the afternoon contemplating the passage of time, and the tolls of age. I walked for a while through the gray afternoon, until a few drops of rain fell and I turned for home, remembering how my younger self would have plowed on through even a downpour and would have reveled in the exhilaration of it. In the evening, the storm abated and patches of blue appeared, with cream puff clouds turning pink above lower sheets of slate. I thought how no one had ever seen exactly those shapes of cloud before, and never would again, but that clouds themselves never changed. Each stormy spring day is a variation on all the others, and anyone seeing one ten thousand years ago, transported to this place today, would find it perfectly familiar.
Perhaps our minds are biased by the individual nature of their own consciousness, as we sense ourselves withering in the world where other things constantly change yet remain eternal. The ephemeral clouds outlast the very stones, and human individuals lack the strength of stones. Collectively, perhaps, we are more like the clouds, and if so, perhaps consciousness, collectively, is like rain, to be returned again and again to the landscaping streams and seas. Still, though I might be part of a cloud, my awareness is earthbound, and, now that I am no longer immortal, being caught in the rain is a hard thing.