The thing about being around children and dogs is that they force you to live in the present. Sure there is a little examining of the past (“…but you said”) and some forays into the future (“When’s lunch?” “What’s for supper?”), but mostly it’s about right here and right now.
The other thing that keeps time anchored is there is so much to do – apart from the feeding, walking and keeping an eye on their cleanliness (both species): I’m refereeing sibling arguments, making up rules for impromptu games, locating lost clothing items and generally thinking up effective threats to keep the chaos under control. So, a person just doesn’t have time to examine life too closely. Life is happening.
During a new game I created this weekend: the “see who can stay quiet on their bed for the longest and they will win a gold star” game, I lay on the sofa trying to find something I wanted to read on my kindle. I have about a dozen books downloaded for ‘at some point in the future’ among them Jumpa Lahri’s “Lowland”, “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” by Anne Patchett, “The Inheritance of Loss” – Kiran Desai and “The Where The Why and The How – 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science”. I tried them all, but nothing was sticking until I started to drift around in “Slaughterhouse 5″, Kurt Vonnegut’s novel about Billy Pilgrim and the bombing of Dresden. A great war novel. Though Vonnegut would never put great + war together in any sentence he wrote.
Vonnegut’s been finding me everywhere lately, you may have noticed from some of my posts. I am not too sure why – but usually coincidences like this coalesce into a reveal at some point. I try not to marshal them too much, it spoils the process, blunts the result.
I read Slaughterhouse 5 when I was in my twenties, and haven’t since. But bought it the other day on a whim. What I found today was this: “And I asked myself about the present, how wide it was, how deep it was and how much of it was mine to keep.”
This is Vonnegut writing as himself – before he gets into the telling of Billy Pilgrim’s story, before we see the horror that has blurred time forever for him. Billy slides from present to past to future and back. Living them in non-sequitur. He is ambivalent about life because, as Vonnegut remarks: “among the other things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.”
So there it was – I think those lines are the ones I have been looking for in my re-acquaintance with Kurt. As I read them I flashed back to a striped sofa in a small lounge in Johannesburg. And I saw the cover of the paperback I was reading. Given to me by my boyfriend who never told anyone he was my boyfriend: “You’ll like this guy”, he said.
And I did and I do.
I’ve been around enough to learn that we never know how much we get to keep. Or for how long. But my present is sitting in the lounge, bellies full (but thinking of ice-cream) and laughing with their uncle. They’re all pulling fleas off Stitch while they wait for me to finish. Together we walk will down the road to a place where the wi-fi reception is good, so that I can make my post.
Then we drift back, get into our PJs, clean our teeth and go to sleep. And we’ll dream about tomorrow, perfectly placed in the present.
(All photos copyright campari&sofa)