I don’t know if you’ve seen the film or not so I will be careful with spoilers, and I don’t know what your opinions of it are if you have seen it, but there is a scene in the film Never Let Me Go that has never left me, either. The little animated gif above (and if you’re not reading this, but having it read to you by me on the podcast, head over to TylerKnott.com and you’ll be able to see it) is the scene, and again, I will not spill the details or context for those who haven’t seen it, though I do urge you if you’ve not to do so, but I will just expound on what it says, and tell you how it moved me when I first saw it, how it does still.
It says, for those that cannot see it “I come here and imagine that this is the spot where everything I’ve lost since my childhood has washed up,” and that made me, myself, imagine a place like this. What if there were a place, some tree on the edge of some green field, some fence splitting some horizon, where all things eventually washed up? What if the people we’ve lost, through drifting or through death, the consequences of distance, or the maladies of misfortune, were to come here quietly in the fading light and raise their hand in the distance? What if we could wave back, step over that fence and meet them somewhere in the middle, long shadows trailing one, while leading the other? I want this place, this place where a breeze in an evening could carry in the artifacts of our childhoods, the memories we carried as long as we could before recording over them like VHS tapes from our youth. Only, nothing ever truly erases, nothing is ever truly lost. I wish for this tree, in this gloaming, this breeze in this spot, I want to remember what I’ve forgotten to remember, but more, I want to hold it in my hands, I want to feel it tangible and full and real and pulsing with the life it once held.
Who we were does not always dictate who we will be, but there are shaping forces that only know that shaping. We are molded and and formed by all we endure, by the way we rise from what tries to keep us down. We are who we are from those that walk into our lives, but even more, those that walk out, those that disappear over that horizon hill and maybe never come back again. There is some sliver of tragedy in the way our eyes point, the direction they face. It’s forwards, our eyes stay in front, and we can never go back again.
We cannot ever kiss again for the very first time, cannot feel that surge of bravery and terror when we finally cross the invisible threshold between their lips and ours. We will never again know the hours that seem to stretch into perpetuity on some warm summer night, the streetlights fading in while the light fades out. Perhaps this is the source of such great ache in us, the foundation of all melancholy and nostalgia, the ennui we speak of so often, sourceless until now. As we age, as we grow into an adulthood built on demands we never made for ourselves, but feel as though they were made for us, I think we settle into the understanding that life will never, not ever again, feel as BIG as it did back then. Then, when crushes felt vital and breakups felt seismic, when everything was permeated with the sounds and smells of discovery, we the explorers of untouched lands, planting ten thousand tiny flags as we went.
The tragedy of this reality, is that we do not know this while we are living it, though we are told, warned, and constantly advised. We hear this, and it floats from us like leaves in storm, “Sure” we think to our ignorant and youthful selves, “sure.” George Bernard Shaw was once asked in an interview what the most beautiful thing in this world was, his answer, which has been bastardized and changed about a million times over the last 90 years, so perfectly sums this ignorance and arrogance up: “Youth,” he replied, “is the most beautiful thing in this world—and what a pity that it has to be wasted on children!”
Youth, wasted on the young, he believed, but I do not believe it so. Our minds, our hearts in our youth are made to be open, wide open, and made to forget. We are built for such wonder when we are small, everything a new miracle, every turn a new opportunity to turn it all around, to begin again, to reinvent and to make memories that do all that shaping we’re supposed to survive. We are clay, raw dirt and mud and water ready for hands to hold us, ready for the wheel of time to spin and create art out of all our messiness. If we knew then what was ahead, what would be stolen? If we knew the depth of loss we’d come to endure, the stressors unavoidable, the decaying of this planet, the erosion of so much kindness, would that innocent and beautiful ramble through our youth be possible at all? This is not to to say that adulthood is all bad, that growing up and growing old are curses we must abide, as I do not believe this, either. There are so many miracles left, some hiding in the Mundane (shameless plug!) and I do believe if we fight to retain some of that childlike wonder, we’ll all be a lot better off, but it’s an indisputable fact that things just will not be the same again. This is ok, but my goodness, sometimes it is so very not ok too. This is also ok.
Maybe one day, we’ll find that place, that tree on that field in that perfect half-light. We’ll stand in some warm breeze, face the purpling of the clouds, the bruising of the sky, and wait for all we lost to wash back up at our feet. Perhaps it’ll come with a sound, waves on sandy shoreline, and we’ll call it song, hum along to the melody we’ve known all our lives. Maybe all those we’ve lost will come too, maybe they will start as a silhouette, tiny as our memory holds them, and their shadow would come as they come, dark arrow that touches us where we stand before they do. Maybe, if they get close enough, we, like in that film, will see them wave, maybe if we were quiet enough, we could hear, maybe they would open their mouths and in words untranslatable they’d speak, and once again, we would know.
It’s forward only,
and there’s tragedy in this.
Our eyes stay in front.