There was a last time you pushed one of your kids or nieces or godchildren in a swing. When was that? Or took your pre-teen nephews down to the park to play frisbee? What was the very last book you read to your kids before bed? The last lullaby your mom sung to you? The last time you put a cartoon-charactered band-aid on a booboo? What ended your teenage friendships? Is it in the nature of dis-solutions that our memories fail us? Dissolving in a miasma of mixed emotions and mental pre-occupations, it's easy to lose the contours of a moment. What about your adult relationships? Some people fade in forcing others to just...fade. Fade: to gradually grow faint and disappear; the process of becoming less bright. The process of disappearing down the pinprick of a drain or through those old-fashioned analogue TVs that you shut off with a thud.
What was the last meal your grandmother prepared for you? What was the last thing a parent told you? What was the last thing you bought from that Greek grocer at the Continental provisions store before you moved neighborhoods? I remember the last movie I saw with my father (that fab pic on Edith Piaf starring Marion Cotillard). I cried and cried, because Edith's music is swollen with love and loss, just like her life. I wasn't in tears knowing this would be the last movie of a lifetime of movie-watching with my dad. There was no special announcement or champagne flutes raised like "Hey, this is our last movie together - Forever!"
I mentioned parks because they were the fabric of my life when I lived in London with my babies. London was an idyllic place to have babies. I say 'was' because things have changed there so much, and not for the better. But in the 2000s, it felt like the last vestiges of Edwardian Mary-Poppinsesque child-rearing: nannies and Regent Park, red double-deckers that you could hop on and off, the zoo, neighborhood walled gardens only a few could access through secret paths, loads of children's activities, and the beauty of socialist-city governments: a plethora of collectivized mom-and-baby groups to join for tea and sympathy. Embedded in London was a deep recognition of the need for mother and baby to bond with others. But when was the last time I saw those women who were so integral during those early childhood years? I went to Antrim Gardens nearly every afternoon, me and dozens of other Belsize Park moms, filling the dead-zone between post-nap and supper. Again, they were an essential part of my life, and yet? The last time I was there did I blow a tasseled trumpet and yell: "Hear ye, hear ye! Stephania, mother of Michael and Nicholas, is moving across the heath to West Hampstead. She shall not be seeing you lovelies ever again." No. Just one day I stopped going. Unmentioned. Uncelebrated. Gone.
This is where melancholia envelops us, knowing the sweetest moments of our life will end and perhaps we won't even notice. There won't be good-byes or bells-and-whistles to some endings that we know will just gone like the wind. Summer can feel like this. Summer is like being on Bittersweet Lane. On our annual Great Family Trek up to Michigan my sister wasn't just melancholic, but in a full-blown depression almost the entire time, the bitter overcoming the sweet. It would be over. We would be gone. This was so perfect, but it wouldn't last. The boys would be bigger next summer, there would be fewer games with them. This meal, this sunset, this time together laughing, this game of Pictionary, well, that would be the last in the sunshine near the lake this summer of 2019.
Many people go to the other extreme of my sister, barely noticing the above-mentioned examples and refusing to feel the melancholia of the bittersweet. Instead of sleep-walkers we are Think-Walkers. Our plotting, planning and calculating over-rides and is almost dismissive of these very delicate encounters and interactions. Instead of Bittersweet Lane, it is Revolutionary Road with our mind's non-stop comparisons, measurements, and survival tactics running roughshod, stirring discontent, unsatisfied, questing for more, distracting ourselves. The movies in our heads dominate instead of just looking out at precisely these encounters that offer so much in terms of energy and challenges, and point the way ever-so-beautifully to what we are meant to see and hear, and to our purpose on the path.