Yesterday we went to an island called Aegina. The fact that this island's name is very similar to a certain part of the female anatomy was not at all lost on my family. If anyone spoke English on the ferry on the way to Aegina, I can promise you that they were disgusted and disappointed, because my family is loud, and we think we are VERY funny.
The thing about traveling with your family is that you rather quickly run out of things to talk about. Here are topics that we had already exhausted by yesterday morning:
- What are you (the children) planning on doing with your lives anyway?
- We (the parents) support you (the children), no matter what you do.
- We (the parents) would like to amend that previous statement. We (the parents) support you (the children) in all ways, except for financially.
- Because we (the parents) want to retire.
- What boys are you guys (the children) dating right now? And is marriage in the picture or...?
- You guys (the children) can totally date women, too. We (the parents) are very accepting. Although that will make marriage hard, because Oregon still does not recognize gay marriage. What's the deal with that anyway?
- Does everyone still feel good about the president?
- Was there any turbulence on the flight? Is anyone jet-lagged? Does anyone need any pastries?
- "The Voice."
So by yesterday morning, there was really nothing else to talk about, so we just kind of walked in silence along the most impossibly beautiful landscape fathomable by man. (We're talking crystal-blue water with little waves, tiny salt-air birds with yellow bellies, thousand-year-old olive trees bending like ballet dancers in the mild breeze, sky the color of a Crayola crayon, etc. If I hadn't been there, I would have said seen a picture and said it was Photoshopped. And I'm not even unusually cynical.)
For a while, I wondered what my family was thinking about. But then I got tired of that, and I decided I would think about how futile it is to be alive.
Along the coast of some parts of this island, you could see the remains of ancient ruins. You had to know something about the island to know they were ruins -- really they just looked like flattened out, sea-wary white rocks, with occasional sea urchin tenants. My mother likes to say that the thing about looking at ruins is that you are mostly just looking at What Isn't. That's true: there isn't a front wall, or a back wall, or a kitchen table, or a bathroom. There is just rock, which quietly, constantly suggests that at some point -- so long ago that no one remembers anyone who remembers anyone who remembers anyone from that time -- someone cared a lot about This Very Space.
As we walked along the coast, I put my toes in the ruins and tried to imagine who else had put their toes Just There. I couldn't possibly. The way I imagine the past is very much colored by Dr. Who. I see Hollywood makeup; powdered braids slathered in place with aerosol-can mousse. I don't know what it was like. No one does anymore, and no one ever will, ever again.
The past is just gone.
That might not be true. Quantum physicists and world philosophers and ancient mystics alike all spend their time knitting together ideas about how the past is NOT just gone. Actually, that's part of what Dr. Who is all about (see above). But it can be scary; getting caught up in this feeling that This Moment -- This One -- is passing. It will be all gone someday. No one will think of my toes.
Something about that makes everything more beautiful, and holier, and fuller, and so much more wonderfully, terrifyingly fleeting.