Since the time change a few weeks ago, I often sit and gaze out my window after dinner, letting the new light wash over me. Memories wash over, too, of being a kid on long ago April evenings after the days just got longer. The air smelled of spring, earthy and fresh, as after dinner we neighborhood kids— Dickie Hanshew, Jackie Renner and me — scrambled down the alley behind our houses, playing tag, riding bikes, chasing each other. Alleys held just the right mix of safety and mystery: the mystery of secrets glimpsed in garages and trash cans, the safety of knowing that, as the evening chill deepened, our moms would be calling us home.
In those first weeks after that long-ago time change, it all felt pretty magical: the mystery, the safety, the scents of warm earth and the sweet sweat of children, and most of all, that extra hour of light. That light held the promise of summer, its endless hours and days, not far behind.
The mystery promised by those long-ago evenings was the first of so many — not long after, Jackie Renner died suddenly, the most stunning event of my childhood. I don’t know what happened to Dickie Hanshew, or even if he’s still alive. And I’m still surprised that my mom and dad aren’t home any more.
Of course that’s the greatest mystery of all — that people I once knew, once played with, once caught the scent of their skin on a warm April night — they might have vanished. Oh, but there’s one mystery greater: someday not that long from now, I’ll vanish too.
More than 50 years have passed since those childhood evenings. There’s no denying that this season of life is darker, with the mix tipped toward mystery, not safety. Most of my friends struggle with loss: the loss of hearing or sight, of movement, of strength, of loved ones, of meaningful work. Soon I have to put down my beloved old dog and I’m afraid my heart will break right in two.
And yet. Often, along with darkness and loss, getting older feels like having that extra light after dinner. The light no longer promises endless time: rather, it promises finality, the end not that far away. Perhaps because time is now shorter, things seem to glow. For no apparent reason, humans look softer, as if lit from within. Trees, clouds, bicycles, dogs — pretty much everything — seem sweeter somehow. Some days the glow stops me right in my tracks. I need to take a deep breath, a second look, a moment to let it in.
Whatever the cause of this feeling, I’ll take it. I’ll take the heartbreak when my dog dies, the continued ache of my parents’ deaths, the many losses of aging. I’ll take the beauty of trees and clouds and bicycles and dogs, of sweet human faces, of pretty much everything. I’ll take it all, bathed in that extra and glorious light.