New Year resolutions, of course.
“Live in the present” is so cliched that I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it more than a moment. Which is the crux, isn’t it? The moment moves. I want to reach back to some of them, and erase others, like a living video machine. (With editing software. Okay, this metaphor is officially way over.)
Why does this moment seldom seem as good as my memory of ones gone by? Probably because I’ve edited and enhanced those over time. I doubt they were as good as they seem to me now, but “that way madness lies; let me shun that; No more of that” as a troubled man once said.
Some of those retreating moments aren’t even mine. The picture I form for the word “happiness” is usually a retro photograph I remember seeing in a magazine, of the sun streaming down on the blonde hair of a young woman who is obviously delighted with her life in the Alps. It’s not the blonde hair, as attractive as it is: a light, bright gold, perfectly styled in what is surely a wind-touched scene. It isn’t the woman, particularly; she is generic enough to be a representation of whatever personality we want her to be. And the Alpine scene is perfect enough to be the subject of a paint-by-number masterpiece, with every color carefully chosen and placed.
It’s the light. Sunlight streams onto her hair and face, her vivid red scarf (it contrasts so beautifully in the foreground of the photograph with the greens and blues in the background), so bright and encompassing that I don’t remember what she is doing in the picture or how she is posed, beyond that face tipped towards the sun. Perhaps she’s stopped during a glorious ski run. Or maybe she’s just parked her automobile, brand new and gleaming in the sun, at just the right vantage point to admire the mountains. I don’t remember.
Was the sun that much stronger back then, in the mid-twentieth century? I saw it in a photograph, a real picture of a real person in a real landscape. The photographer could have manipulated the image, brightening the colors or increasing the exposure. But in the fifties, before Photoshop, just how much magic could he work with his chemicals in the darkroom?
And I don’t think it’s the longing I feel, the desire to reach back to the sunshine and feel it streaming over my own hair, that makes the picture capture the light so strongly. I remember the photograph, its presence on a glossy page, and my wonderment at the sun’s strength in the Bavarian mountains. There must be so much more sunlight on the other side of the world.
It is perhaps not coincidental that I’m thinking about this at the winter solstice, when the sun is at its lowest and weakest and the light barely trickles through the bare branches of the trees. But it isn’t my brilliant sunshine I’m remembering. It’s a picture of it, somewhere else in some other time. The closest I got to that moment of glorious light was looking at it in a picture in a magazine.
Maybe I should glory in the softness of my own winter sunlight. Sure, it looks different at this time of year and in this place. But it is the same sun, after all. And this pale sunbeam is shining on me now, in this moment, not in some imaginary, or even real, past.