There’s a rusty weather vane atop the barn-turned-workshop across the street from me. It belongs to my neighbor, who rises at 6:00am to go get the newspaper. I just learned that he was the maintenance director for the Amherst schools for decades before he retired. He has taken a liking to us, clearly pleased that this house is no longer inhabited by students whose numbers seemed to double and triple over the course of their lease. He is the kind of neighbor everyone should have–who will always help you pick a lock or snake a drain.
The other night, the girls and I went knocking on the doors of some of our other neighbors, ones we suspected had kids. We met a philosophy professor with a seven-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. He, too, seemed relieved and happy to hear that we’d moved in. They were getting ready for bed, so we said goodnight and decided to walk to the corner store for treats. On our way there, our old-timer neighbor drove by. He slowed to a stop, rolled down his window, and gestured to me to come over. I did, vaguely wondering what he wanted to tell me.
“Do you want to go on a trolley ride?” he asked. The Amherst Art Walk trolley was done making its rounds for the evening, and he said he was friends with the driver. “Hang on, I’ll tell him to come pick you up right here,” he said. I swear I saw a twinkle in his eye.
So we waited a few minutes and then lo and behold, the trolley came up the street and picked us up for a private spin through town. Aviva did a little queen’s wave out the windows to smiling pedestrians, while Pearl sat alone in the back. We picked up a man with a case of beer in a brown paper bag, gave him a ride to the railroad tracks, and surprised my parents by stopping at the end of their driveway with a jingle. Then he dropped us off at the corner store, where the girls debated between bubble gum and Pringles and Chips Ahoy while I ate a Dove bar. On our way home, we spotted some friends in the kitchen and went in to say hello.
I’m such a neighborhood girl, a townie through and through. There’s the guy with the ZZ Top beard and Harley t-shirt who walks his black lab past my house twice a day, and the girl with the tight curls who always wears earphones when she’s jogging. There’s a groundhog in the backyard, and a bungalow with a great porch so run-down and sequestered by overgrown bushes and trees that it’s just begging to be revealed. I daydream about being able to buy that house and fix it up with Mani, which will probably never happen but it’s a fun fantasy to have.
Sometimes I think all I ever write about is home. This morning, I sat on a curb by the farmer’s market with two lovely friends, talking about how three years is not a very long time objectively, but marveling at how much has changed and unfolded since 2010, the Year Everything Changed. To be sure, everything changes everyday; the hair on our heads falls out, skin cells slough off and regenerate, conversations that have never occurred before take place, we make eye contact with strangers we may encounter again years from now, thinking they look familiar but not being able to place them in time.
I read something last week about three seconds, how that is actually the increment in which our brains take in and process information. The topic of the article was “mindfulness,” and the science was couched in flashy terms–a “simple trick” we can all access to slow down time. When we spend many hours doing repetitive, familiar tasks or getting lost online, we perceive time differently than when we are having new experiences. Moments of surprise, exhilaration, and terror slow things down; the idea was that this is a skill one can cultivate by paying attention, by seeking out new sensations and tuning in the to ones we have come to take for granted.
Change your running route, knock on a stranger’s door, ride a trolley, go bungee jumping, tell your spouse the truth, watch the cows for a while, streak around the backyard naked at dusk, climb a mountain, scream in a freezing cold stream, eat something that grosses you out, use a glue stick and scissors and see what happens. Sleep when you’re tired. Life throws plenty of moments at us that make three seconds feel like a lifetime, and yet a lifetime can go by mired in same-old-same-old, day-in-day-out, and so many other axioms of wondering where the time went.
The time never goes anywhere. It encapsulates, loops, bends, swoops, and circles. It flows and collapses and cannot be measured. Past lives can seem as present and vivid as today can seem a distant blur. Two hours can pass in a blink when we’re engaged and alert, but seem endless sitting at a desk and waiting for 5:00pm to roll around.
Sometimes feeling dulled is a signal to go to bed early, but other times, it’s the devil’s work of too much thinking and not enough doing, or too much doing and not enough being. Three seconds at a time. Men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
And then night falls on the weather vane and the birds have their last song of the hour, and I wonder what this post is about but publish it anyway, with this poem:
An hour is not a house
by Jane Hirshfield
An hour is not a house,
a life is not a house,
you do not go through them as if
they were doors to another.
Yet an hour can have shape and proportion,
four walls, a ceiling.
An hour can be dropped like a glass.
Some want quiet as others want bread.
Some want sleep.
My eyes went
to the window, as a cat or dog left alone does.
Image: Natasha Yakovlev