Time is one of the more insistent themes among novelists, poets, clergy, lovers and elders. There is broad agreement among them that time cannot be stopped, extended, altered or even totally understood. Time simply is what it is, slipping away tick by ineluctable tick.
But it can be divided….!
Each of us has this knife in our possession; a blade that can be slammed into the tick of time, dividing it in half. Everything that came before; everything that comes after. It’s that conscious split-second when we know (at least sense) that from now on everything will be somehow different.
The moment comes in different ways to different people. That starry night you first fell in lust…that spangled day you got your degree…that morning you promised to love till death do us part. Or perhaps it was your first promotion…your first time in Paris or Rome…your first child…your first drink…your first cemetery…possibly that service you attended or that book you read or that secret you never wanted to learn.
There really are before & after markers in our lives. Often several, although usually one towers above the rest. And what is true in our lives is also true in that of entire populations.
In the West, we divide all history with BC & AD. Or maybe with the rise of Rome & the fall of Rome. Before Luther & after Luther. Before the printing press & ever since. In the history of the United States it used to be before & after the Civil War. However, today it may be before & after WWII, before & after the computer, or before & after Rock n Roll.
we may not always know when THE intersection has been reached. One of the Big Band Era’s (30s-40s) most popular singers Helen O’Connell put it neatly. When interviewed later in life by an admiring reporter, she smiled: “If I had only known I was living during an ‘era,’ I might have enjoyed it more!”
Which is to say that frequently these before&after markers are simply taken for granted. Only understood much later. Often silly little things like the time I realized I wasn’t the only kid on the block who couldn’t dance; chocolate ice cream was really not the world’s favorite flavor; my buddies’ religions made as much sense as mine did; that penny candy I loved was actually worth just about that; oh, and in real life the guy doesn’t always get the girl.
Now that I think about it, the most startling before&after marker might have been the day I read Virginia Woolf’s toss-off line: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”
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