Monday, December 11, 2006

Things Change

Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

Brian Schwartz outside sitting Shortly after my ninth birthday, I transferred from Hunter elementary school to Friends Seminary. A few hours ago, a yellowing paper fell off a shelf in my apartment. On it, in my handwriting, is the draft for a speech written on my last day at Hunter.

"Class 536, Mr Pollock, and student teachers: As you probably know, I am tranferring schools, to a school called Friends, where I shall struggle to uphold the glorious Hunter tradition. I wish to say goodbye to all of you. You may or may not be sad to see me go, but I will be sad to see you cease from being a part of my school life. I hope you will carry on the wonderful Hunter tradition when I am not a part of your daily lives and, when you join the junior high school of your choice, I hope you will make the teachers and children say to each other, 'He is that Hunter child. How Hunter strives to attain a good reputation, and how wonderfully he carries the glorious tradition on.' "

I don't remember writing this speech and I don't know if I actually gave it. I don't know that person at all.

I have trekked in forests at the edge of the known world, with the blood roaring in my ears as my heart pounded in fierce desire to explore the unknown. I have danced and laughed and talked till the dawn, then walked on dewy grass to welcome the sunrise, giddy with the joy of it all. Where is that person now?

At school I had a small circle of friends. The sixties were over but no one had told us. Laughing, exuberant, we all moved to the same music. Where are they now? Married, with children the age we were then. I imagine them sitting on lawn chairs watching their children gush and giggle, shaking their heads with content bemusement. How can anyone have so much energy?

And if we met today? I'd want it to be as it was. I'd want to talk for hours. We'd try, gamely. But we'd have nothing to say to each other. I don't think it's age or aging. I think it's change and changing. And I think it can be observed on a wider scale. History moves in cycles of joy and weariness. Some decades are golden. But nothing gold can stay.

Postscript: Must We Grow Old? Brian Redux

Just after graduation, I had a party for my friends in my dorm room. I bought enormous amounts of pastries at an Italian bakery in east New Haven. The night passed in a giddy blur of cake and reverie. And then it was over. School was over, the harsh world outside the campus beckoned, and the long long summer of love that had started in the late sixties was winding to a close. We went our separate ways.

Twenty years passed. One summer night in the late '90s, I went into a staid, quiet workers' bar in Brooklyn. I expected the usual crowd of morose drinkers hunched around the bar. Instead I walked into a Mardi Gras. People were dancing. There were party hats and streamers. It was LOUD!! It wasn't the usual crowd, either. These people were young and tanned and athletic. They were golden.

You could get beer for three bucks a quart. I don't quite know how it happened, but after a few of those quarts I was up there dancing with them. The magic was back. And it has stayed. They made me young again.

I've lost count of the parties we've been to since that time. My memories of our times together are a kaleidoscope of gaudy, ever-shifting color. I'm seeing them tonight.

I don't know why people grow apart. I don't know why they slow down. I don't know why the party ends. But I have learned it is NOT inevitable.

We used to talk about that sometimes, my law school friends and I. It was as if we knew what lay ahead. Lynne, our shining star back then, said we're like a diamond falling through velvet black space. A spotlight hits us. First one facet blazes, then that turns to dark but another facet shines. Lynne's favorite song was about that. She used to play it all the time and I haven't heard it since:

All the people we used to know
They're an illusion to me now.
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenter's wives.
Don't know how it all got started,
I don't know what they're doin' with their lives.
But me, I'm still on the road
Headin' for another joint

Note: "Nothing gold can stay" was taken from a poem by Robert Frost.

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.

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