I consider myself a young man. But clearly I am not that now; 41 is middle age. I'm halfway to the unthinkable geezer mileage of 82. Has the past grown so far away? Are there more days behind than there are ahead?
Picture, if you will, a young boy in a meadow. He has a small excitable puppy on a leash. There is an oak tree nearby, cooling the boy with its shadow. He looks down at a cluster of fresh bracken from which he knows a wild sunflower lives. The sky above is bright and sunny ... then fades to amethyst dusk ... then navy night, punctuated only by a sliver of moon.
Time moves faster and dawn breaks. The puppy runs around the boy's legs, chasing a butterfly. The sun passes through the sky. Time moves faster still: it's dusk, midnight, dawn, and noon, and the progression picks up momentum. The days streak by, and the puppy's mad dashes become a delirium of movement, and all the while, the boy laughs in delight as the wild sunflower plant rises higher and higher. Soon the bursting face, a dark choppy screen surrounded by giant Crayola-yellow pedals, rises above the boy's head.
Autumn arrives and the sunflower dries; the pedals flake and the husk of its head is too heavy for the crackly stalk. The oak tree's leaves fade to amber before crashing to the meadow. Its shadow grows thin but the boy is grateful for more sun in the colder months.
Time moves faster still, and the young man braves winter and arrives at spring a couple inches taller, a few wider. The puppy is now a dog, but continues to sprint about in a blur. The boy smiles to see the wild sunflower's fresh spring stalk shoot up in its familiar place.
Time moves faster still, and the seasons begin to streak together. The sky pulsates into a flickery maelstrom of yellow and navy. The sunflower's annual heights reach a plateau; then it starts to grow less tall as the years pass. Before long, it stops growing altogether. The dog matures, and its motion blur becomes less frantic, until it too is less tall than years past. In its last appearances — when it doesn't move much at all — the old dog's stegosaurus spine is clearly visible.
By this time the boy is a young man, with stubble on his face and no longer getting taller. The dog has passed on. Ever the seasons roar along, a runaway train down a great mountainside; the young man grows plumper and his hair begins to vanish. Ever his companion, the oak tree stands rigid, busting with green leaves that hide the hot sun from the man's face; when the air cools, the leaves blast away into orange mist, and the man is grateful for more sunlight.
Time begins to slow down. The man is now older, grayer, clearly out of shape, more lined. The meadow could be said to resemble him; the orderly bracken, heather, and timothy has become a tangle of weeds choking the ground at the man's feet. The oak tree never moves an inch, steadily carrying on.
Time nearly grinds to a halt. He is officially an old man now, bent and gaunt, skin peppered with spots, eyes shaded by bifocals. The wheeling sky above him spins one last time to a clear mid-morning in the spring. The sunflower, puppy, and optimistic laughter are all gone now, but in their wake are the memories of a man who has seen much, been to many places, covered many miles, caroused with many friends, bedded many women, supported many fallen allies, dined on many dishes, trampled many daunting mountains, and crushed many fears.
The old man turns around to his only steady, unerring companion in all this time: the old oak tree at his back. A wide smile shines from the old man's face. The tree never wavered, never took its cooling shadow away from the face of the boy — the man.
When I see a picture of me and my mother, this is what I think. This is how I see her.