Peeling back layers of time
It appears the proposition our lives are laid down in layers can be reasonably advanced. It’s not so dissimilar to the accretion of dust, silt, and the remains of plants and organisms in layers of sediment. When uncovered, they reveal their contents and serve to define the age in which those layers were formed.
Historians, archeologists, and journalists peel back those layers. In the case of the archeologists, some laid down millions of years ago. With historians, the expositions are of more recent origin. With journalists, it’s whatever it takes.
We also dig; looking to discover what shaped us into what we are.
I had completed my morning workout, finished my breakfast at the C.I.A restaurant, and was sipping coffee, reading a newspaper, when an old acquaintance came in. I hadn’t seen him in a while, so we had a little chat.
It turned out he was meeting the fellow in the booth next to me. We were introduced, and my booth neighbor was, as they say, “invited to the chat.”
I forget just how the conversation turned in the direction it did, but, somehow, fathers became the topic. My acquaintance remarked that my booth neighbor’s dad had been a real character. What the term, “real character” entailed was — as it usually is — left undefined, but carried the presumption of a positive vibe.
Assuming the existence of that positive, I remarked to my booth neighbor that his father sounded like a man well met. However, as with many unsubstantiated voiced assumptions, I was wrong. His response surprised me.
“Oh, he would be pleasant enough to you,” he said. “Dad had a glad hand for strangers, but he was totally different with us kids.
“There were eight of us — count, eight — to which he never gave the time of day other than to demean us in some way. He never once said a kind word or did a kind thing for any of us.”
This fellow was in his 60s. After all those years, still, I could hear the hurt in his voice. So much so I felt the need to comfort him. I told him how sorry I was. He thanked me before merging on into his day.
I was lucky. I had a good father, one who cared for me, always treated me well. But he was gone too much. He had a full-time job, but all during my minority, every weekend he played in a dance band. Every Friday night and every Saturday night for all those years.
Many of life’s opportunities arise on a Friday or a Saturday night. Multiply those lost opportunities by 14 years or so and know the weekends in which they appeared were substantially lost.
When, in the course of his regular job, my dad’s vacation time came, he would often take the money rather than the time. He didn’t have to do that. There were worlds unexplored, passions undiscovered.
After my father retired, he told me he regretted not taking those vacations, wished he wouldn’t have been absent all those weekends, wished, too, he hadn’t traded extra money for precious, fleeting time.
Robert Caro, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of “The Power Broker,” about Robert Moses, the destruction of ruthlessness, and absolute power, spoke of layers:
“… There are facts, objective facts. Discernable and verifiable. The more facts you accumulate, the closer you come to whatever truth there is … finding facts can’t be rushed, it takes time. Truth takes time.”
As a young newspaper reporter, Caro was fortunate to have worked under a crusty old editor who once told him, “Turn every page, never assume anything, turn every —damn page.”
It takes time to turn those pages.
It will be interesting to read in our newspaper of some tomorrow, the pages being buried in layers by the politicians of our day — pages now out of view, beyond our control.
In the meantime, we compose pages. Pages whose contents we can control, to a degree, pages that will be revealed in the layers of our times, in the sediment of our lives. Pages we have the opportunity to compose without hate — with honesty and kindness.
Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs biweekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.