Far from being the end of days

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All seems still. But time and life move on all around us.

Tomorrow (Sunday 4 March 2018) I turn 45. I’m sure it’s normal to have a moment’s disbelief at each new year of life you’re about to commence. How did I ever make it this far?

This time around the passage of time feels all the more surprising, as time itself has come to a halt these past few days.

A small taste of true winter* – courtesy of the so-called “Beast from the East” and its latecomer friend Storm Emma – has frozen the UK this week. Heavy snow has brought the quiet little Sussex town in which I dwell to a halt. No movement from my window, save that caused by snow and wind. Roads are icy, dangerous. Barely a car has ventured its way down my particularly quiet little street.

Static moments in life are so rare. Everyday life is so often frantic, frenetic. We should relish every second of stillness.

For now, all life appears to have come to a halt. The world around is not even drawing a breath. All seems frozen in time. The past week has been a succession of icy, frozen images. Frozen beauty.

Opposite my home “office” room window, the Buddha sits impassive and serene beneath winter’s blanket. 

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The rising moon is framed by some rather serious icicles.

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Breaking dawn throws pink and purple shades across the deep snow.

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I started reading Jenny Erpenbeck’s excellent The End of Days** the other day. She writes:

“A day on which a life comes to an end is still far from being the end of days.”

I’m pleased to say that nothing so mortal has befallen me this week.

But life is always moving on. Even when it feels like it isn’t. To borrow and adapt Erpenbeck’s words, the stillest moments in life are far from being the end of days.

A Clinton, a Kennedy, an mjcarty

A quarter of a century ago this week, I was in the same room as a serving US President and a Kennedy.

On Monday 1 March 1993 – right before I turned 20 (still a teenager!) – I saw Bill Clinton give a speech at the New Jersey university I was attending as an exchange student.

Pomp and circumstance ruled the day. Black-suited, black shades-wearing agents strode around, speaking into tiny mics***. Deafening marching bands played as the crowd of squealing, excitable students took their seats in the college basketball arena where Clinton was to speak. Still more deafening waves of cheers greeted each of the seemingly endless succession of grey-haired dignitaries who took the stage before Clinton appeared (one of these dignitaries was Teddy Kennedy himself, so some level of student excitability was understandable).

Audience excitement peaked as President Clinton emerged to press the flesh of the front rows.

The picture I managed to get of Clinton amidst this crush was a complete fluke. There was such a big crowd that I held the camera over my head and snapped blindly. I was amazed to see how well this randomly-snapped picture of Clinton amidst the mild media frenzy came out when I got the pics developed (younger readers – please ask your parents what I am talking about here).

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Clinton’s speech could only be an anti-climax after the frenzied build-up. And an anti-climax it was. You can read the text here, for evidence. The crowd was subdued and slightly restless while the President spoke. But the marching bands kicked back in the moment he finished, taking the event out on a noisy and excitable note.

Back outside, the New Jersey snow was deep, the temperature distinctly freezing. Winter stillness was in full effect.

The me who was just about to leave his teenage years went back to daily life as a limey exchange student. I had no idea what would come next in life. But it was far from the end of days.

Life felt anything but still at 19 going on 20. For the most part, it’s been anything but still in the ensuing quarter of a century. We should relish every second when life is full, frenetic.

Time and life move on all around us, always. We should relish every second.

FOOTNOTES

*  Well, true winter by UK standards. Denizens of countries that really know true winter can afford themselves
a wry smile here. I know that, for the most part, us limey types don’t
have much to whinge about when it comes to snow. But neither do we have
the infrastructure to cope with it when the white stuff does descend
from the heavens.

** I decided to procures Erpenbeck’s book following a micro-review on @legalbizzle’s Instagram. An “episodic Central European novel reflecting the sweep of 20th century history in individual lives”? I’m In! I recommend you follow legalbizzle on Instagram for wonderful food and travel photography, and for notes on his diverse and fascinating reading.

***
“You never asked for ‘the bathroom’ in a public place unless you wanted a
bath. If you wanted to relieve yourself you asked for ‘the toilet’. You
could never say that in the States. It was starting to occur to me that
Americans had odd habits too.” This is
Chrissie Hynde in her memoir, Reckless, describing a moment on an early
visit to London at which the often curious cultural differences between
the UK and the US became apparent. Gentle reader: I had the mirror
opposite of this exact same experience the day I saw Clinton. I naively asked a black-shaded, black-suited agent type where the toilets were. The disgust in his voice was palpable as he replied: “Sir: the REST FACILITIES are over there, to the left.”

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