Not too long ago, I made a quick visit back to my hometown of Cohasset, located on the shoreline of Massachusetts Bay, about twenty miles south of Boston. The occasion was my older sister's birthday. I have three sisters, but my older sister and I are half a generation distant from my younger sisters, resulting in a tidal pool of memories unique to those years when it was just the two of us.
We spent our childhood on Stockbridge Street, a winding lane just barely wide enough for two cars to pass, dense-packed with houses perched on the rocky outcrops that define New England. Downtown Cohasset was a short walk from where we lived and the weather was free of the oppressive humidity that usually prevailed in early July, so it was natural that we would spend some time during my visit taking in the sights.
As we walked around our old haunts, it struck me that we weren't much concerned with the shops that lined South Main Street or the current residents of Stockbridge Street. Rather, our eyes were focused a half-century back, looking for the town we knew growing up. The present did not much hold our interest that day, other than as a reminder of what once was. We sought instead to locate the metes and bounds of a town no longer visible to the naked eye, a town that lived on only in memory.
Philosophers and scientists struggle to define reality and the passage of time which marks our progress through it. Einstein wove time and space together into a single fabric -- all there, all the time ... so to speak. Some argue that reality is only a product of our perception. We see what we think we see. Others say that when we aren't looking, reality isn't there ... that the things we think of as real are only there when we perceive them.
Maybe that's how the past works. It's there when you look at it, waiting to be given form by our perception of it. Faulkner wrote that the past isn't dead; it isn't even past. It certainly felt that way as we walked the streets of Cohasset, clusters of memories assailing our senses like the fragrance from the honeysuckle that grew in the field across the street from the house on Stockbridge Street.
It may be true that time only moves in one direction ... forward. But I feel within me different drummers beating to different times. There are moments when I hear the distant beat of days gone by coming through more clearly than the present. Or maybe it's just that I have learned to listen for it, to linger in the moment when the orchestra conductor in my head taps his baton to get my attention and then begins to play a memory I once knew all the words to, but can now only recall the melody. It is enough.