In his 1978 hit “Time Passages,” Al Stewart comes off as a reluctant time traveler: “I’m not the kind to live in the past,” he says. In fact, he claims he doesn’t see much value in time travel at all:
Hear the echoes and feel yourself starting to turn
Don’t know why you should feel that there’s something to learn
It’s just a game that you play
His words say one thing, but his song says something else entirely: I can’t think of another record that better captures the pull of the past and the way we can’t resist giving into it. For me, the pull comes most often from music. I have written here many times before about the unique power of certain songs to remind us of other times and the people we knew in those times. Some of those people we knew are our former selves. Often, my purpose in time-traveling is simply to reinhabit one of my former selves. Sometimes it’s so I can remember what they knew then that I’ve forgotten now. Sometimes it’s to forget what I know now that they didn’t know then.
Time travel is an imperfect science, though. All we get are shadow portraits of how life really was, because we can’t remember enough of the details that would permit us to see the thing whole. (“A girl comes toward you you once used to know/You reach out your hand but you’re all alone”) The big events of our lives stick with us precisely because they’re big. The little stuff slips away down the memory hole, largely unnoticed. And that’s too bad, because the little stuff is the canvas on which the big events are projected. Without the little stuff, the big events aren’t as vivid in memory as they could be.
One Day in Your Life is my favorite feature on this blog. It’s dedicated to recapturing the little stuff of life from a given day. It’s so much fun to write that I do it a lot less often than I’d like to. But since we’re coming up on the third anniversary of this blog, I’m giving myself a present: We’re going to revisit a bunch of summer days from your life and mine, throughout the month of July. Watch for it beginning soon.