Spring keeps springing

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Today is the first day of spring.

How this happened so early this year is the wonder.

But by now the surprise is that I’m surprised by the swiftness of time as it marches on; I am merely old enough that time speeds up as my speed dwindles, and I should be used to it by now.

When I was young, I thought spring would never come. Now, I’m barely in the new year when spring has sprung again. The time warp of age is almost embarrassing; I think it indicates my forgetting as I get older to follow poet Mary Oliver’s rule of living: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

As long as I practice these three essential behaviors, I do not lose time.

In the novel A Gentleman in Moscow, the main character, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, is confined by the communists to a Russian hotel. He grows older and wiser in its confines, often thinking about and talking to his friends about the phenomenon of time passing.
In the year 1954, when he is 64 and has been in the hotel since 1922, he has a mild fit when his daughter, age 25, models a dress for a prestigious Paris theater debut as pianist. When she twirls around to show off the dress to her father, he is shocked to his aging soul that she is wearing a “dressless dress.” The gown has no back.

The woman who designed it stomps her foot at him and says, “Enough! We have no interest in your scruples, Alexander Ilyich. Just because you witnessed the Comet of 1812 does not mean that Sofia must wear a petticoat and bustle.”

This is a lesson in wariness. Do not let creeping age, Colleen, turn you into a reactionary, judgmental fuddy-duddy.

The behavior – attitude, really – sneaks up. When I was barely 60, I was shocked enough to comment, out loud, on a teenager heading off to her prom dressed in what looked to me like only straps across her shoulders, no dress to speak of. When I was young and wearing my decade’s version of shocking, it wasn’t the backless or the strapless but the short. Mini-skirts were the outrage in the 1960s.

However much vigilance it takes, I keep trying to let life entice me.

Last year on this date of the first day of spring when my granddaughter turned 25, she told me that she soon would be stationed in Honduras.

I said, “Oh! Such a violent place right now. Aren’t you scared to go there?”
Her answer, accompanied by “the look” (disdain), was, “Gramma…” drawn out with a weary shake of her pretty young head.

I took myself in hand, figuring I’d have to worry later and silently. I said, “Oh, right, it is your life, isn’t it?”

That I am three times her age has something to do with it – I had let creeping age turn me into a reactionary, judgmental and worried fuddy-duddy.

It takes constant vigilance at this age, what with piercings, purple hair, “tats” (tattoos) ALL over, lyrics, movies – those “mystifying new entertainments,” as the Gentleman in Moscow mentioned – to allow young people their own behavior. That our kids and grands are even talking to us is a sign of their forbearance. We can neither ignore nor condemn them for their personal preferences, for look at their legacy from us – a planet on the verge of collapse.

Both autumn and springtime bring on nostalgia, especially the older I get. But it is spring that moves me the most: the blood pumps quicker and there is eagerness in my step, even as my blood pressure needs watching and my step is now careful rather than carefree.

Spring comes more quickly each March, which means nothing, really, except that even though I have no more belief that I really was ever 25 than I do in believing I am now 75, I have both vague and sharp memories of enough springtimes to wish my granddaughter godspeed into hers, and as many good memories, with no tut-tutting on my part about how she goes about making those memories.

I have a feeling, anyway, that her looking-back days will be full of excitement more than regret – trips to Mars, perhaps? Already she lives in a foreign country and makes friends with people whose lives and skin color are different but whose hearts are the same. I am not fearful for her anymore than I ever was for myself.

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