Look, Before ...
Before the day warmed sufficiently for the possibility of a thermal, when lot after lot had been trimmed of summer weeds, smaller birds scratched about for the newly released seeds so that the edges of the arroyo teemed like a barnyard.
Now it is afternoon and from the back deck I watch as two ravens, one after the other, discover the thermal and rise in arcing circles slowly disappearing to the west. Not long after a hawk picks up the same current and, with less effort than the ravens previously, lifts without a wingbeat and quickly kites back toward the east end of the arroyo from where it had appeared only moments ago.
Circles within circles overlapping as the earth glides westward towards the sunset which will remind us once again of the day just before it. How much of that day is it possible to reimagine from our vantage point? Where the hawk and ravens soared to perhaps a much more panoramic recall would be necessary. What do they remember of that part of the day spent gliding with the thermal and its graceful lift? Do we recall the last twelve hours gratefully or are we existing in anticipation of tomorrow before it has even suggested its reemergence?
When there were no physical maps, it is possible that our navigation of the realm of our existence didn’t need the recall of ‘where’ – where we were at the moment was sufficient. The priority of food and our stomachs told us that we’d better keep moving towards the next meal. Eventually ‘where’ became a part of our memory of places that made finding that next meal slightly more promising. When there were no cities and only a vague pattern of trails to follow, we lived before ‘where.’
Now both memory, written history, the daily news, and greatly embellished necessities make where we are a large part of ourselves. We constantly are drawn to reassess what has gone before us in an effort to learn what to pursue and what to avoid – all perhaps with an eye to making every hour a constructive part of a path we deem positive for ourselves and hopefully those around us as well.
When survival was of paramount importance on a daily basis – and for many this is still the case – the list of ‘what mattered’ was shared and we banded together to increase our chances in an often aggressive or at least frightening world. Now, for many of us ‘what matters’ is a list that grows beyond any sense of necessity and has become a list that we assign a great deal of importance to. Were we in some ways better off ‘before all that mattered’ became the constantly evolving personal identity and its accompanying costumes and accoutrements?
‘Before,’ Hobbs reminds us, was “brutal and short.” ‘Before it mattered’ as much as it does to glide ahead and find the personal thermal to lift us above it all, perhaps we had a more refined sense of focus and with that also the gift of a different kind of memory. When ‘history’ and our changing story became a record of how we continuously adjust our points of view and the way we interact with the world, did we relinquish another kind of gift that had allowed us to live in the present instead of with our attention given over to what had ‘gone before.’