Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Garden of Time: The Round of the Seasons



       The seasons, they go round and round, as the Joni Mitchell song puts it.
            Things can look, and seem, and even be so similar from year to year that we may conclude that we're not going anywhere -- or, as the song also puts it, or we're simply "back where we began." But we are. We're going to the end.
            Time is both cyclical and linear. That's the paradox that defines our situations as material beings, made from natural ingredients.
            Anne and I have often observed that it's hard to see how anyone can keep track of time without reference to children. We know how long ago some event took place by connecting it to the age of one or both of our children. Our time marks are the year our daughter was born, and the year our son was born.
            And we also know the truth of Mitchell's line that it won't be long before you and I, and everyone else, drag our feet "to slow the circles down."
            But they don't slow. They speed up.
            Some considerable number of years ago, when Anne and I were getting together as a couple, her parents and my parents decided they should meet each other. Someone called someone else. Anne's parents, the Meyersons, volunteered to travel from New York City, where they lived (and still do), to Long Island, where my parents lived almost the whole of their married life.
            They went out to dinner at a restaurant my parents chose, a place with a pleasant South Shore location by the water. That evening both couples made a happy discovery. They were a lot alike. The men wore ties and jackets. They were both white collar professionals working in the accounting field. The women both worked also, Anne's mother as a preschool teacher, mine in a Nassau County department office.
            And both families had three children; in each case two boys and a girl. Would my mother have shared the sentimental family secret, "Al wanted a girl"? Maybe not, at a first meeting.
            I don't know what they ate. My father would have ordered a beer and smoked a cigarette after dinner. He would have coaxed my mother to order a glass of wine. Chances are Anne's parents would have followed suit. Neither of her parents ever smoked, almost an oddity back then. My mother smoked on and off; quitting regularly or limiting herself to social situations (such as this one), slipping back into the habit, then quitting once more.
            The single, most obvious difference between them was religion. Or, perhaps religious 'background' is a better way to put it, since while my mother was a regular church goer, my father never attended church or said a word about religion. I can make a fairly long list of the common subjects on which my father never said a word and yet made himself agreeable in company. As for the Meyersons, as Anne's father once put it "we're both talkers."
            By all reports, both couples found the meeting reassuring. The circles moved on.
            Anne and I were thinking lately of that meeting when we discovered, not entirely to our surprise, that the carousel had cycled through a sufficiency of seasons to bring us to a meeting with the parents of the young woman with whom our son is living. We've known Emma for about a year and a half, and we've spent a fair amount of time with the young couple on vacations. So when Saul and Emma came to spend Christmas with us and go to my brother's house on Long Island, it was both convenient and natural for us to meet her parents, who live in Nassau County.
            The meeting took place at a restaurant; again, neutral ground. The party was swelled by the addition of Emma's sister, a high school senior. We had already heard a good deal about her family from Emma, and she no doubt prepped her parents about us, so no one was in great need of reassurance. We meshed well together at the restaurant and talked easily; another way of saying that nobody voted for Trump.
            We drag our feet, and yet the circles go round. Sometimes, though, we can find satisfaction in how those seasons pass and what grows and matures and begins again in their passage. This is one of those times. Having shared four decades together, Anne and I have now met the parents of the young woman our son is sharing his life with. All of that makes me happy.