My hands stumbled through the blue cheese case at Wegman’s I wondered why the heck there are so many varieties of mold-ridden cheese? And more so, why the good people at Wegman’s insist on stacking the cheese in their neat little rows with the label’s facing down and the marbles of cream and green up, forcing the foraging shopper on the hunt for a specific type to turn over each one to read what it is.
Geez, I don’t speak Dutch, but isn’t that the same thing?
“Need help with finding something, my dear?” a thick, short older woman in a Wegman’s shirt and apron asked with an accent I could almost place. Czech, maybe. I had two students from Prague recently and heard something familiar in the way she said “with.” Then again, it could have been German or Hungarian or Icelandic or Dutch for all I know. Like I can tell one accent from the other from the sound of “with”?
“I’m looking for Roquefort, actually.”
She stepped away from the cart of cheeses she was pushing and stepped towards me, punching a stubby finger straight down at a small stack of cream and green triangles, looking remarkably like all the other varieties.
I turned one over and picked it up. Roquefort. Right beneath my nose.
“Thanks,” I replied, a bit embarrassed. To make light of my inferior searching skill I added, “I like to think I would have found it eventually, but thank you.”
“This is life,” she replied. “Whether it’s a missing bill, a shoe or something more important, the second you give up looking, there it is.”
A truth I’ve pondered before.
It could be January or the cold or the passing of the holidays, but in the grey days of winter I often think about the passage of time. Not just how it leaves us, but how fickle and funny it is. A minute at a stoplight can feel like a forever, and yet a year can pass in a blink.
It’s odd how once distinct memories of similar things blend, too, shortening time in the past. Take the annual holiday gatherings, each their own at one time but melded together over the years into one inseparable whole. Was it last year that the kids got the easel, or the year before? I don’t remember. Our annual vacations to Hilton Head do the same thing, marrying together into one big blob.
When I first worked in Washington all those years ago, I took the Metro early each morning to a bus that left the Alexandria metro stop each day at 6:15 am. For two years, every day, I rode that bus: Bus Number 9. And just how the clock strikes the same number twice each day, when I was on that bus, it was my world -- mine and the other daily riders.
Looking back, those five hundred bus rides lasting 15 minutes each come down to a single blob of memories. Even those are foggy.
With the holidays gone again, and New Year upon us, I can’t help but think what a disappointment 2014 turned out to be. I entered the year searching for something, hoping for something. For some reason, 14 has always been my number. I know the reason, a childhood decision when two of my favorite players – the Orioles’ Mickey Tettelton and Caps’ Jeff Courtnall – both shared the number. It seems a silly thing in hindsight to put hope in a whole year based on the coincidence of two mediocre athletes. But I did. And the year let us all down.
There were good things, too, reasons to be thankful, but as a whole it delivered more struggle than joy. It didn’t defeat us though. We survived, and there’s victory in that. There was certainly a lot worse that could happen, I don’t need reminding. But it was hardly my year. Don’t worry. I’m not wallowing in it, just writing about it. And lucky for 2015, it comes with no expectations and a pretty low bar. It’s sure to be another quick one, regardless.
I’ve thought a lot about the passage of time, how it crawls and flies. How different memories grow and shrink in the mind, shortening or expanding the memories of time. Those joyous moments that speed by tend to live longer and broader in the memory. While those ones that creep can disappear altogether. I’ve thought about how routines can play tricks on time, stringing things together with order and filing them away in a single box. We need those routines, but they chisel at time. Destroy it.
I decided awhile back that the way to make time feel longer was to fill it with experiences. Unique adventures, journeys, new explorations. Those things stand sturdier against the compression. But without some order and routine, it can all become a blur, too.
The last year seems a blur, for certain. Most of the memories that will last are not good ones, the phone calls delivering bad news, the great frustrations, the long nights.
It makes me wonder why it is we force everything into the bookends of a year. Was it a good one or a bad one, like a vintage of wine. The truth is, good and bad happen every year, every month, every day.
2014’s ultimate sin was my own expectations. And in that way, 2015 remains lucky.
I’m not looking for anything special. So maybe we’ll find it.
And maybe, like the cheese in the case, it will have been there all along.