Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.
When I was young I theorized that old people slowed down because every experience was fraught with layers of memory to be savored. For those of you familiar with Nietzsche, it was reminiscent of the weightiness of life imbued by his “myth of eternal return” versus novelist Milan Kundera’s “unbearable lightness of being.”
I had the wisdom not to share my theory, except with friends, and never in writing! But now that I am old (61 next month!), I see some truth to it. The occasion was Saturday’s East Atlanta Village Strut festival.
When I moved to the adjacent Ormewood Park neighborhood of Atlanta in 1994, East Atlanta Village looked like a ghost town: as I recall, having a barber shop, maybe a salon, an “iffy” grocery, and many boarded-up storefronts. Then the Heaping Bowl & Brew opened, the first restaurant, signaling to other urban settlers that this might be a place to come. A trendy martini bar named The Fountainhead soon followed, replete with an Ayn Rand quote at the entrance. Boutique shops came along, as well as other restaurants and bars (including a gay one), a couple of which featured alternative rock bands, reflecting the counter-culture that has long been a part of this neighborhood—thus the bumper sticker, “Keep East Atlanta Weird.”
It was while listening to one of these bands in the food tent that I had my Thomas Merton “aha” moment—you know, you’ve heard it a dozen times, from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, his vision coming off the high of a contemplative retreat and recognizing citizens of Louisville at an intersection (now commemorated by a plaque) “walking around shining like the sun.”
Wade had made the “healthier” choice for lunch, fish and chips, while I went with a half chicken smothered in barbecue sauce out of one of those huge oil-drum barbecues tended by a cook that could have played that role in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. In the interests of full disclosure, my vision was helped by the street communion of draft Sapporo beer from the sushi bar across the street.
All my life, I have experienced pleasure simply watching people in public spaces. As a child of the 60s, I relished the diversity gathered at the Strut, from baby strollers to wheelchairs to walkers, longhairs to short hair to shaved heads, tattooed and pierced and neither, of different colors and ethnicities, sexualities and genders. As a man in his 60s, I “recognized” younger and older versions of people I once knew, now gone our separate ways, or lost to disasters like Vietnam, AIDS, cancer, addiction.
Remembering them, I fought back tears, caused also by realizing with Merton that there’s no adequate way to convey to those I watched the full value and fragility of their lives.