Last Saturday, here in Brooklyn, the wind brought a freshness to an afternoon that otherwise would have been too hot. It brought to mind a late afternoon in Montreal forty-five years ago, even though this is now mid-spring and that was oppressive mid-August. That long-ago summer I was insecurely in love with an off-and-on girlfriend. Today I’m confidently married. But the two moments had in common the vague sense of something forgotten. That Montreal afternoon, I felt a vague sense of some yet earlier afternoon, a memory I couldn’t quite place, then or now. It is hidden behind the veils of imperfect memory.
Beauty, a word so overused that its impact is diminished, has, for me, always been tinged with sadness. Beauty is not completely in the thing itself, but also in what it evokes. Proust, unlike many of us, remembered its source: those madeleines. For the rest of us, the joys and agonies of infancy evolve into the buried treasures of our lost childhoods: lost, that is, to conscious memory, but forever after calling to us through undercurrents of emotion. I have this thought when I watch infants respond with unrestrained passion to everything that happens in their lives. I think how they will forget, as I’ve forgotten everything from before I was three.
On Monday, this time a windy day in Connecticut, I sat across from my ailing father at a small table at the open balcony door of his hospice room. As he appears to be nearing the end of his life and as his ability to speak fails him, he has been openly loving, and I’ve responded in kind. Despite conflicting world views and careless slights on both our parts, the connection formed in my childhood and his obscured young adulthood is intact.
I struggled to find things to talk about in our mostly one-way conversation. From time to time, a breeze blew a sheer white curtain between us, and he’d pull it aside. Such an immensely significant gesture, one that reached back into sublimated memory. Nothing could be more beautiful.
When I stood to leave, the curtain fell aside and we held on to each other, less for life than for love.