I was sitting on the train today feeling very annoyed with myself for my low mood. I cast about in my mind for something to kick me out of my eeyority and up came my very best memory: the day of the blue sky.
It was summer in the late 70s. I was ten years old and had gone down to the river by myself. After wandering along the bank for a while i’d ended up on a strange man-made hill that (looking back as an adult) I realise was probably built to hide some industrial monstrosity or other. And it was on that hill that I looked up and saw… the most perfectly blue sky. Right there and then i thought to myself (in that earnest way of ten year olds): ‘I must never forget how blue this sky is, how beautiful.’
I sat there feeling sad about all the people who had never lived to see that sky or who hadn’t yet been born or who were somewhere else in the world where that sky wasn’t visible. ‘If i hadn’t been here right now,’ i marvelled, ‘I wouldn’t have seen it either.’ Many times since then i have returned in my mind to that hill and that sky, keeping the memory alive with my visits. It was only today though that i suddenly connected it with another memory from earlier the same year: the day of my tenth birthday, when I woke up elated to finally be in double figures. This was what separated the kids from the grown ups in my mind. I’d finally made it!
Yet no sooner did i experience this wave of joy at my new found ‘maturity’ than it was overtaken by another wave, this time of sadness. Because at that moment i realised that once you leave single figures there is no way back. Time moves in one direction only and takes you with it. For the first time in my life i had the sense of things being lost, of leaving bits of your life behind forever. I noticed for the first time the way that time seems to speed up with each passing year and i was frightened.
By contrast, just two years earlier at the age of eight, i’d walked past a group of Fifth Years as they poured out of the local high school and thought to myself in despair: ‘I’ll never live long enough to be sixteen!’ Not because i thought i was in imminent danger of death, but because to me at that point in my life, time was something that seemed immensely slow moving. It had taken so long to get to the age of eight, i couldn’t imagine accumulating enough life to reach an age which was double that. As for memories, i didn’t worry about losing them because i was barely aware of having them.
In just two years i’d made the transition from a creature of the present to a person with a past, one that i was already aware was vanishing. And so on that hill i tried to fix a moment forever. In a way i succeeded, in a way i failed. I remember the moment: the intensity of feeling. I even remember the hill and the river. But the blue sky? Today i realised it was gone.