Over the past week or so, I’ve had reason to look back at my life. I thought it telling that little things stuck out as much, if not more, than what I had thought at the time were momentous occasions.
For some reason I found myself thinking about being on an airplane at age 18. I was flying from Hamburg, Germany, to Minneapolis. We were supposed to stop in London but the U.S. was struggling with an air traffic controllers strike at that time. London’s Gatwick Airport apparently cleared us to land but wouldn’t allow us to take off again — their air traffic controllers had deemed American skies unsafe due to the strike. Instead, we landed at a small cargo airport well outside of the city to take on fuel for the transatlantic hop. I remember seeing people run out of the small airport terminal to take pictures of the gigantic Boeing 747 that had landed at their little airport. There were no jet ways at the terminal, so we couldn’t leave the plane; but the crew opened all of the doors for some fresh air during refueling.
That alone was a great adventure in many ways, but what stood out most on that flight was my seatmate. Because we couldn’t take on passengers in London, the plane was mostly empty; and those of us in coach were invited to sit in business class, where there were only two seats side-by-side. The person sitting next to me was an eight-year-old girl. I will never forget her because she could fluently speak three languages, and she talked for the duration of the flight to Minneapolis. I remember thinking even then, at only 18, that maybe I’ve already wasted my life. Here was an eight-year-old who was not only multi-lingual but also highly conversational, as demonstrated by her ability to talk non-stop for the ten-hour flight.
In my memory, she may well have been talking about philosophy and quantum physics. Regardless, I was fascinated. I remember my sole contribution to anything she considered fascinating was showing her a trick with a U.S. dollar bill in which she had to try to catch it (with the incentive that she could keep it). It’s almost impossible to do and she never did manage it. I was still a few years away from learning about philosophy and quantum physics — so the dollar bill trick was all I had.
Now in thinking about that little girl, I find myself wishing I had some magical second sight — an ability to pull up a memory of someone and be able to see what they are doing today. For a lot of people today, that’s called Facebook; but that’s not reality. One, I don’t remember that girl’s name (she would be 38 now) and two, I’m beginning to suspect that Facebook contains more fantasies than real life—not everyone is a successful hedge fund trader, after all.
I have a feeling that girl is successful, perhaps running a company or doing something big to save the world. At a minimum, I hope she’s happy. And I wonder if she’s tried the dollar bill trick on her own kids yet.
There are so many memories and taking a walk back through them has a cascade effect. Recalling the memories of a person or place brings on more memories that bring on more.
On that long-ago trip to Germany, I met a cute girl from New Zealand who was there on a student exchange program. I don’t know if she really was all that cute or if it was the wonderful accent, but I saw her as a young Olivia Newton-John. The result of our encounter was a torrid love affair that lasted all of 30 hours. Unfortunately for me, I don’t think she was aware of it.
On a whim, I looked up her name in Facebook. There are a lot of women named “Jo” with her last name in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. Thirty years have passed so I had only my memory as I looked through the profile photos of women with her name. I clicked on one name that looked promising, but her security settings didn’t provide her location information. I clicked on the names of a few of her friends, ultimately landing on her husband’s page.
His name was Rob and his profile photo revealed a smiling and obviously happy man, possibly a few years my senior. His profile said, “dad of 5. i love my kids to bits. 4 grandchildren. proudest father alive.” His favorite quotation was “time waits for no man.”
Then I looked at his Facebook wall. His last post was September 14, 2010 saying, “feeling poorly.” There were no replies to that message.
I looked further and clicked on an earlier post from September 13, one in which he was joking around with his daughter and son. The last post in that thread was from his daughter, dated November 24, 2010. It said:
i miss you soo much. its not fair. you were the most amazing dad on the planet. the most amazing man, and role model. you were the one i used to talk to. get advice from. i need you papa. i cant believe you’re gone. that I’m never going to hear your laugh again, hear your silly jokes when I’m down. hear you take the pi** out of how short my skirt/dress is. i miss you so much it hurts like hell. not a second goes by without me thinking of you. i love you papa, i just wish i told you more when you were here. you’re at peace now. sweet dreams daddy. look after lily-may for me. see you soon.
Wow. Suddenly I forgot all about my youthful memory of the Jo I knew in Germany and began thinking about this man I had never met. I could see in his face and eyes that he was a good man. And now, on Facebook he lives on; the page remains as though he had never left. I hope his daughter found comfort in being able to communicate with him that way.
Suddenly I saw no reason to look back. As Rob’s favorite quote so eloquently stated, “time waits for no man.” Looking back isn’t moving forward. The time to live is right now, in the moment. There may not be another chance to do so.
My mom is moving into an assisted living facility later this week. She has gone back and forth about it but is now excited about this change in her life. For me, it was what caused me to look back in the first place. As her son, is there something I could have done differently so that instead of assisted living she would be boarding a plane bound for a European adventure? Obviously there isn’t but that doesn’t stop me from wondering. I don’t want her to get old before her time but only she knows what that time is.
The place to which she is moving is very nice, spacious and will give her the opportunity to spend time with people her own age, rather than spending her hours alone in a house. My brother visits her every day, my sister and my wife and I have each offered to have her move into our homes but she makes her own decisions. Still, I wish she was packing for an adventure to a far side of the world rather than packing up memories to move out of her home.
By the time you read this, I’ll be on a highway somewhere bound for Minnesota for a brief visit with my mom. Time waits for no man. I’m not going to wait, either. I’m not going to dwell on looking back, I need to start looking around and appreciating what is here right now. A man I’ve never met named Rob taught me that just last night.