Tim O’Brien, in The Things They Carried:
“It’s now 1990. I’m forty-three years old, which would’ve seemed impossible to a fourth grader, and yet when I look at photographs of myself as I was in 1956, I realize that in the important ways I haven’t changed at all. I was Timmy then; now I’m Tim. But the essence remains the same. I’m not fooled by the baggy pants or the crew cut or the happy smile–I know my own eyes–and there is no doubt that the Timmy smiling at the camera is the Tim I am now. Inside the body, or beyond the body, there is something absolute and unchanging. The human life is all one thing, like a blade tracing loops on ice: a little kid, a twenty-three-year-old infantry sergeant, a middle-aged writer knowing guilt and sorrow.”
The line made by a blade on ice is the wick Mary Gordon was writing about. Small loops, large loops, off-centered loops–it’s all the same line. All the same life. Looking back at pictures, sometimes we can see the same eyes or the same smile. My grandmother in her eighties said she still felt like she was sixteen–until she tried to do something.
What was there in fourth grade or at sixteen that’s still there now?
Sometimes we have to look at the pictures, spread them out in a line, to prove it to ourselves.