With four little kids, my husband and I don’t spend as much time together as we probably should. So I was looking forward to an overnight getaway in New York City as the culmination of a June that was, with the launch of one of my books, an incredibly full month. We’d take the train from Philadelphia, meet my brother and some friends for dinner, and see other friends and their new baby the next morning.
The trip did not disappoint. It was a lovely June New York night. We drank a beer in Union Square at a seafood festival—one of those random city happenings that simply compel you to be out and about. We walked north past the Shake Shack crowds in Madison Square Park and up to Wolfgang’s, a steakhouse near the apartment building in Murray Hill where my husband and I lived for the first seven years of our marriage. We met our friends. We ordered our wine, clinked our glasses, and dug into the beefsteak tomato salad.
And then, as the waiters were clearing our plates, I had a thought, something like a scene in To the Lighthouse (I’ve been reading a lot of Virginia Woolf lately), where Mrs. Ramsay steps back to observe the end of her dinner party. The moment she has waited for is passing. “With her foot on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked,” Woolf wrote. As she left the room, “it changed, it shaped itself differently; it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past.” The present slips away, the door closing on it even as she tries to memorize it. For me, it was not so much the dinner itself, though it was a good dinner, but knowing that the entree would come, and then be cleared, and eventually the dinner would be done, as all dinners are done. We’d eaten at that restaurant a few times before, and maybe we would again. But the years that pass in between are vast. We’ve lived in Pennsylvania for four years now—four cycles of the rose vines blooming on the fence. Two more children, four more books. Time passes.
This is simply the nature of time. It’s sometimes a frightening realization, though we’re not helpless. In his popular TED talk, former Olympic speed skater John Coyle, whose races hinged on hundredths of seconds, discusses how to slow time down. How can you make an August day feel as endless as it did when you were eight? For an eight-year-old, he reminds us, “everything is new.” Time is constant, but a wide-open mind is like a bigger aperture in a garden hose. As adults, we put our thumbs over the spout. We close off the depth and breadth of experience, and hence the flow is faster. Slowing time down means consciously creating new adventures, taking emotional risks, and filling moments with intense connections that make time seem to stand still.
I think there is much to that, and I’ve been trying to see the frenetic nature of recent weeks through that lens. I’m living a full life. There are highs and lows. In one 168-hour span I gave two speeches, went on national television, and did 24 radio interviews. I ran a half-marathon. I sat by my daughter’s side as she recovered from her second round of surgery to correct her non-aligned eyes, and then realized as the incisions healed that, like the first round, this one didn’t really work. I took my giggly baby in the pool for one of our first swims together and sat out on the porch in the early morning hours with him, sleepily showing him his first summer. There was even the mundane: the slowly ticking seconds I spent waiting as my car got inspected. I try to pause and acknowledge all that is going on, these new tracks of memory laid. You can feel nostalgic for the “now” even as you’re in it.
For the door does close, and eventually I will look back on all of this. Even happy moments bear in their shadows this melancholic reality. All moments, good or bad, are finite. All you can do is deepen your experience of them. I can look forward to going to the Jersey shore this summer while recognizing the poignancy of memory: my now almost six-year-old trying his first ice cream there five summers ago, tasting that first sweetness and throwing his little head back in ecstasy.