I noticed last fall in Philadelphia that my attention was on the wane. Sudden blocks of time were disappearing from my memory — simply because I wasn’t noticing or really engaging the world around me. This was made pressingly clear to me as I was riding the blue line to work. I suddenly noticed that I was on the train — and no matter how hard I wracked my mind, I couldn’t recall how I’d gotten on. My entire morning was lost. Getting up, dressing, walking to the station, waiting for the train, finding a seat — all of that was gone from me, as though I had never done it at all.
Just before that experience, I had read an article on how the human mind feels as though time passes more quickly in middle age because there are fewer novel experiences for the mind to attend to. For many weeks before moving from Philadelphia early last summer, I remember feeling each night that it was impossible that it was already time for me to sleep. I was plagued by this sense that I had only a moment ago just risen, just begun the day…but the day itself was of no matter, unremarkable.
And some people want to live forever. If only each day could be as various and surprising as the very first of life.
To stop this terrible disorder, this sapping of my days, I realized I needed to attend to something each day. Something novel, but also consistently so. And so I’ve re-learned to take just a few minutes to notice the sky each day. In some ways, this is a sad lesson. As a child, I used to love cloud-gazing. I’d lay in the lawn for long periods and simply listen and observe. This memory bites me with its small teeth. What else have I forgotten that was precious to me?