Hours we would wait, wouldn’t we? Hours staring up at the analog clock hanging over the only door in the classroom, watching the minute hand crawl lazily towards the moment the bell would ring. Hours fidgeting with the little hand-folded football of a note we scrawled out on college-rule paper, freshly torn with the perforated refuse still crumpled into a ball we probably threw at a friend across the room when the teacher’s back was turned. We’d rise, wouldn’t we, zip our Jansports, sling them over a single shoulder, and find our way into the superhighway of gossip and PDA that was a high school hallway, and maybe, if we dared, alter the path to our locker. Just in case, we’d tell ourselves, just in case they did too.
They. The mystery of the dozens of theys we stressed over and fawned over and obsessed over and felt our silly young hearts racing for in our youth. These unknown, magical creatures that lived secret lives we couldn’t possibly imagine, but dammit we tried. The first romances that taught us of those that would come, often with heartache, sometimes with grace. We knew so little of them, eking it out of them a single awkward date at a time, the length of the sidewalk up to their front door seemingly sixteen miles long, the conversation with their parents while you waited for them to be ready more intense and agonizing than any oral thesis defense that could ever come. We learned by our failures, by our jokes that didn’t land, our fumbling attempts to yawn and place an arm behind their back in the darkness of a movie theater, the sparks that did (or did not) burst forth when we first dropped our palm to our side and let the skin of our pinkie finger brush against the skin of theirs. They, they of mystery.
What becomes to all those theys if that mystery fades? When we were young, a crush meant so many of those aforementioned hours just waiting, waiting for a single chance to walk by that person in that hallway, to maybe see them on a weekend if you were blessed with luck you knew you didn’t deserve, maybe a date if luckier than that. We’d wait while the corded phone would ring, and ring, and ring in our own ears until their parents picked up and we’d have to ask if they were available, in our most polite voice of course. Hello Mrs. Smith, is your daughter available. No, not that one. Everything’s fine, thank you, how about with you? Thank you so much, have a nice night. And only then, did the true terror begin. We’d scour yearbooks to find the pages they were in, their obligatory school photo, the teams or clubs they belonged to, because those were the only photos we could find of them, unless we hit the absolute lottery of taking them to a dance. Then we’d pose, stand behind or in front of them and hold their hand in our open palm robotically as some photographer blinded us with flashbulbs. Six weeks, we’d wait again, for the 5x7 glossy we probably no longer wanted, as young hearts are fickle hearts and oh how our affections could wane. We’d leave prime real estate on the best pages of those yearbooks for their little paragraph blurb come the end of the year, hope they wouldn’t dishonor us with something too simple or cliché, we’d feel the dagger sting when all we’d find was “Stay cool.”
What becomes when mystery fades, and what’s more, has it already faded into this nostalgic obscurity? What happens to passion, to interest, to magic, when there is no mystery left? I’m old apparently, a fact I’m still coming to terms with, and I’ve no doubt I’ll expose this fact with the words I write today, but oh my heart aches for how much things have shifted. Kids today do not know this, not the wait, not the mystery behind it. We have two teenagers in this house every other week, and I have learned so much of what the state of things are when it comes to romance. Kids today (at least here, I will not speak for other places I know not of) don’t say they are dating, don’t even say they are ‘seeing’ someone, they just say they are “talking” and they say it with a seriousness it’s hard to not giggle at. There isn’t any actual talking in this talking, however, it’s done almost entirely through Snapchat, and even in that chaotic app, there really isn’t much actual communication. It’s selfies, predominately, dozens and dozens of them over the course of the day, all of them taken haphazardly at skewed angles, mostly showing only a tiny fraction of the top of their face, the side of their face, or even extremely close-up of their eyes and nose. All day, a back-and-forth stream of photos of everything they are doing, seeing, watching, all taken only of themselves, but when a question akin to “When are you going to hang out with them?” the shock on the face answers it all. They probably aren’t, they probably won’t, and hell, they might not even want to.
Still though, sorrow comes when the “talking to” becomes “not talking to anymore,” and somehow, that little pang of heartache does rise up like a bubble in their throats. Perhaps, oddly, there is hope in this?
Where my thoughts go with this development, with the witnessing from front row seats, is always forward. I wonder what will become of mystery if it continues to fade, and if it fades away completely, what then becomes of longing? I’ve often said that for me, poetry is “taking an ache and making it sing,” and so then I wonder, if longing goes, what then happens to poetry? To art? To all that comes when fueled by the wait, the longing, the pining, the aching that we are to turn into song?
Perhaps this is me being dramatic, maybe this is me being old, as this is me speaking from only my own experience, but here is what I know:
All of the art I create, all of the words I write, the images I capture, all come from some place of longing inside me.
It’s this aching, this mystery, that keeps me stumbling forward into the arts, into creativity, into my own imagination and curiosity. The mystery of the life that spins around me, all I do not know, the mystery that is my wife, still, after all this time when we’re around each other more than any two people I’ve ever known, the mystery of what it is to be a human being, what it is to be a single blip of light in a universe of so much dark. The mystery is what keeps me going, keeps me asking questions, keeps me investigating, keeps me pouring out the contents of my own soul as the most feeble attempts to, not answer it, but point out that I’m here, that I’m paying attention.
I don’t know if it’s gone, not yet, this magic and mystery I hold so dear, but I do wonder as I watch Sarah’s kids try to figure out what it is to connect with another. We’re not built to see our own faces as much as we do, this a fact studied often, we’re not built to share everything the way we do. I am lucky to belong to one of the last generations to grow up without mobile phones and the constancy of the internet, so all I opened this article with was commonplace in my development, but it reads as quaint I am sure to the younger members of this household and society. Everyone follows everyone now, and the constant selfies are sent to everyone on their list, not just those they are talking to, so the distinction falls even further into meritlessness (not a word but should be).
There must be a tipping point, clearly there is as babies are still being born, families are still growing, our population is still hurdling over 8 billion, so at some point people must figure it out, or at least they have done so far. What though, if this too slows as a consequence of the increasing isolation that our devices afford, if the long walks up the long driveways, the long talks on phones into the wee hours of the night, the anxiety-riddled conversations with the parents of our theys, the awkward dates, the prom dances, the first kisses, what if they fade and go? Will we go? Perhaps.
I wonder and I worry of the magic when this mystery fades, as it is fading now, a fact I stand behind and would defend fiercely having seen it first hand. I know the methods of our connection have constantly evolved over the centuries, I know that what was common when I was a kid would have been outlandish and extreme to those a hundred years before, but I still say this is different, this is something brand new, this is something with a potency and potential to shift so much more than anything that has come before.
What becomes of us, if all this mystery fades?
I don’t know, but I’ll keep asking.
Where goes our passion
the magic of our longing,
when mystery fades?
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