Whatever We Had Once Was Gone

Space NeedleOne of the most frustrating and wonderful things about living in America is that we believe in magic.

We have witnessed so many amazing things in our lifetime – from the personal (the ability to maintain friends across previously insurmountable distances) and technological (cell phones) to the cultural (a black President) – that we consider magic more possible than not.

So it is startling when we expect magic and encounter … its absence.

I wrote 18 months ago about a magic day, one of the best days of my life, when staffers from my first job came together after 35 years for a reunion in Seattle.  That job itself, while difficult (as any start-up is), had elements of magic. Besides my first full-time magazine job, it was my first time in a strange city away from home, finding my first apartment.

The magazine focused on adventurous travel – backpacking, ballooning, river rafting – and we were able to entice people both well-known in that field and in others to contribute. Robert Redford wrote an environmental essay for us. I picked up the phone one day to hear Candice Bergen asking to speak to my boss about a photo shoot.

It was around the time that Seattle took the nickname “The Emerald City,” and that was appropriate because it felt like the magical land of Oz. Even with low salaries, the staff – most of us about the same age and educational background – persevered with a remarkable resilience that few of us encountered in a workplace afterwards.

And so, after the reunion last year, that heady day of catching up and realizing all that we still had in common – a love of travel, Seattle, and literary pursuits – there was a sense that we didn’t want to lose track of each other again.

And yet, we have.

I travel to Seattle frequently for both business and pleasure. And each time, I’ve contacted all those still there, suggesting dinners or cocktail parties. Each time, life has intervened to dispel the magic.

At a cocktail party I organized at our hotel last Friday, only one person from the magazine showed up. Like me, Phil loved last year’s reunion. Like me, he had tried multiple times to bring people together another time, without success. (I have other Seattle friends, so Phil and I were not drinking alone.

In begging off, others blamed everything from the mundane (commute challenges) to the magnificent (off to Maui, thank you). Phil and I bemoaned that we were in Oz no more.

These things happen, but why is it so dispiriting? Why do we expect magic when we know it is so ethereal? Why do we yearn so much for bygone things? America is such a wealthy country, and yet we seem to constantly yearn for something missed – even when we are not sure what it is. The Tea Party seems to want to return to the Springfield of Father Knows Best, even though it never existed. I’m beginning to think that The Great Gatsby is considered a great American novel because, at its heart, it is about the irrational yearning of a man who has everything for the one thing he has lost (it is also innately American because, like America, Gatsby’s motives are pure but his methods are not).

I fear that, having lived an amazing life, I expect magic too frequently. That it happened once should have been enough. That it struck again last year was a bonus. To expect it again is just greedy. I plead guilty as charged.


About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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2 Responses to Whatever We Had Once Was Gone

  1. SR Newman says:

    George and I know this song, too, and will join you in the chorus.
    You captured much in this piece, Howard, and put it so well.

    • Of course, Sondra, in a typical senior moment, I was thinking the line came from Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne.” But as serendipity would have it, I heard Happy Chapin’s “Taxi” last night and realized I had misremembered the source entirely.

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