Way back then

In at work 20 minutes before start time. The floor is sparse, contained little conversations between clumps of people talking about trivial, early morning things. I sit at my desk and browse the news sites.

Outside the clouds go from horizon to horizon. It is cool, and a few drops of rain fell as I walked to the train this morning. Another day is dawning. Soon the office will be full of people and activity and noise. Soon I’ll be at work. Soon enough the day ends and we do it all again.

I came to work listening as I do to an audiobook. It was vivid, portraying a time long ago and a place, familiar, far away. It was Paris and I knew it, and could relate to the people, the dialogue like overheard conversations.

I looked out the window as I listened, at the scenery passing as the train trundled through the suburbs, the people climbing aboard, sleepy and silent, crowding together, and there was an earthy reality to it. This is now. But then listening I was reminded there had been previous ‘now’s’. Now’s are eternal.

You know it of course, but it’s rarely more than a theoretical knowledge. You know that people lived before you, and did, more or less, what you do – like the characters in the book I listened to. But because the time has passed and become history it presents statically to the mind. They’re all dead. That world has gone. There is only now, this, and the banal drudgery of daily routine.

It’s good when something takes you out of that perspective. I find it wonderful that there have been ‘now’s’ like this before. It seems so strange and unlikely even as I know it as being perfectly and logically true. There seems something sad about it to. You realise how fleeting those now’s are. How they pass into history, as do the people who experienced them. You listen to these vital overheard conversations through your headphones and it’s so vital and real and compelling, yet not only is it a work of fiction, it’s from a time 80 years past on the other side of the world. Those vital moments – I mean the real, true ones – have long past, and mostly forgotten. As to will my moments, the moments I dwell on so much here. Everything becomes dust.

I love history. I find it rich and fascinating, not just the events, but the people. I often wonder what they were like really. Even now I wish I could go back and witness some of the great moments, and meet the great characters. When I was a kid I’d watch Sherman and Mr Peabody set off in their way-back machine and wish I had one of those. I still wish that, but these days I’m likely as not to go back and just sit in a café or bar and watch the normal life about me. I can think of nothing better than to nurse a local drink and sit listening to the overheard conversations about me, or perhaps even indulge in one myself. Wouldn’t that be great?

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