I’ve developed this theory about why old folks sit and stare into space. When I see a certain knitted pattern on a blanket, or taste a perfectly-made shortbread cookie, or watch a movie filled with actors I’ve seen dozens of times before, I have a few moments where I lose the plot to memory.
I think of the blankets I’ve slept beneath with a similar pattern, on overnights at my aunt’s house, or when I was sick on the couch, or on camping trips. I think of the shortbread my grandmother used to make, or the Irish section at the international pavilion which sprung up once a year in downtown Syracuse, or struggling to bake the perfect one at home so I could recapture that feeling and finally giving up when I realized it had to be made for me. I think of seeing this actor as a cocky but ugly dude in all those eighties movies, that actress as my secret crush throughout high school, that guy in all of the shlock he slogged through on his way to being a household name.
Nothing is what it’s supposed to be. Sunlight filtered through blinds is not sunlight filtered through blinds, it’s a road you travel which brings you to a bunch of places you’ve been when the light poured into your room at just that angle and you took a moment to notice. The present has no now, only memory of what was.
Does it happen more often as you age because there’s less to look forward to (and I don’t mean there’s nothing good in the future, I mean when you’ve reached, say, fifty, and realize more than half your life is likely gone; at that moment there is actually less life ahead of you than you’ve already lived)? I think so, but I’m only approaching that halfway moment. If you look around my family, anyway. My halfway point might have come when I was nineteen, and this year might be my last. You never know.
Think of that aged person in the corner at family gatherings, the matriarch or the patriarch, taking a break from reading, or talking, or eating. She sits and stares. If associations steal this much time from me now, imagine what will happen when I’m ninety.
“How was lala land?” Becky might ask, or “Where’d you go?” when she sees my eyes return to normal.
Of course at those moments, I’m beyond the present, looking every way at once. Maybe that’s the real reason old folks stare into space. Maybe the past is just a small part. Maybe the questions I spend my time with now - why am I here, am I living my life well, will it matter that I was - will be a lot less abstract near the end of my life.