30 Years in a Room
Time is measured. Time is memory. Time can evaporate.
So it was last night.
After being told that I need not present at an Architectural Review Board hearing for a small renovation of a fallen church into a 2 family in habitation of its husk, I was summoned anyway. I was not happy.
It was in northern Westchester, 90 minutes away. We were doing almost nothing to the exterior – why was I needed? And the meeting began at 8pm.
Of course, I went.
The place for the meeting was an old home converted to town use, I vaguely knew where it was, but still had to find it – traversing up and down a dark street, until I found a tiny street number to contradict my phone’s map app that said I was 700ft away from it.
I, as usual, was early and sat in the car. For a while. The house/office was dark. Then 10 minutes before the meeting a car drives up. I enter. There were only 3 chairs: 2 members were on vacation. Meaning we needed unanimous consent: not really an issue.
The other members toddled in. All started at 7:59. No one but the board and this project in the room. We were it on the agenda.
My cursory presentation was nicely met. But, after a pause, the far left member said: “This architect did the group home at the parish hall.” (The picture at the top of this piece)
30 years evaporated.
I had been in that room before. 30 years ago.
The member noted “that was a great improvement – you did a good job.” The other 2 members of this board of volunteers – also coming in from the far reaches of a multiple hamlet “town” nodded their heads.
Then the member who noted my presence 30 years ago said “a book you wrote had something like this in it” (referring to the project at hand.)
Another time evaporation.
Before me sat a distinguished gray man, perhaps 70. But at his words he became a classic 1987 handsome business man. Sitting, then, as now, far left. He noted at the 30-year-ago meeting “I liked your book”
He was referring then to:
I was transported to seeing a brown haired suit-wearing executive, and I was a 31 year old, with no children, contemplating my own office, unsure of much, but happy to have the job I was presenting (as I was this night).
30 years ago I had to find this same house, stand in this same room, talk to this same man about my work, and my writing, but this time it was this writing:
In those intervening years, I had gained about 80 pounds, lost them, wrote 7 more books, designed about 500 built things, added onto the house on the cover of the book, then added a barn, had 2 boys with my wife – and those boys who went all the way thru school, college, grad school, and now jobs as men.
Thousands of events, millions of moments – hundreds of events of moment: all left the room in an instant.
My rememberer and I were reliving an instant that was not déjà vu as it was in real time, corporially present, but we had short-circuited the march with memory.
We had broken the cascade of decades to crack open a sedimentary layer long buried under experiences, images, people and memories. We time travelled.
Architects hope their buildings defeat time – and death. Writers long to have their work reach beyond limits of distance and time (and death). Given that we know everything on the internet will be cohosting the Apocalypse with the cockroaches, and everything built and written is somewhere on the web, immortality (of a sort) is now a given.
But as humans we want significance beyond our lives: we want to have impact. We want more than observance of the flow – we want to swim in it, or maybe redirect it. But that is not a right – or even earned, or a privilege. It happens when things we do not control impact things we do.
That happened last night.
Not much, but something. Something.