There is a class of events—maybe they have a name, I don’t know—that I’ve been thinking about on and off ever since my oldest was born nearly three years ago. I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about; we’ve all experienced them. I have no pithy way of defining these events except to say that they are things you do for the last time without knowing it will be the last time you do them. These things happen all the time. If we were to stop and think about it, there must be hundreds if not thousands of things we have done for the last time. The majority of these, I suppose, are entirely trivial.
Sometimes, of course, we are aware that we are doing something for the last time. I think, for example, of the 48 hours or so leading up to when I was putting my beloved beagle down after fourteen years together. Naturally, I was acutely aware that much of what we were doing, things we had done daily, year after year, were now being done for the last time. Not all such cases are necessarily sorrowful or sobering.
But it’s the fact that many of these events pass by unnoticed, unregarded—that’s what I’ve been thinking about, or, more precisely, feeling my way through. Some day I will carry my children one last time. I will tuck them in one last time. I will help them get dressed one last time. Days may pass, maybe weeks and suddenly I will realize the fact belatedly. I’m sure you can multiply examples to better suit your own situation.
I wonder, though, if that lack of awareness-in-the-moment is not a kind of grace. The burden of that knowledge would be too great. We would strive, fruitlessly, to stay the passage of time, to linger, to refuse to come to the moment itself. It is better I suppose that we, as Richard Wilbur put, “fray into the future, rarely wrought / Save in the tapestries of afterthought.”
Relatedly, there is a class of objects that uniquely mediate our relationship to the past. These objects are mementos, but of a special kind. They are mementos that form the last tenuous tie to some cross-section of our past. Without them, whole swaths of time would almost certainly be lost to us. You recognize such objects when you come across them rarely and each time they recall to mind what you have not thought about since last you encountered the same object. Maybe years pass between such encounters. They are the sorts of things that you always consider throwing away, but can never quite bring yourself to do so. Why? Because it is not the object you would miss—you never think of it as it is—it is some small part of yourself that would become almost certainly irretrievable. It is no small thing for someone to release a part of themselves in this way.
I have no conclusion. No segue to a discussion of technology. That is all.