Time has always scared me. When I was a little girl I read a book about a rocking horse. There was a little boy who loved the rocking horse, but then he grew up and moved out. The rocking horse got tucked away in a dusty attic. Forgotten. One day, a lifetime later, the boy came back with his grandson to the house where he grew up. They found the rocking horse still sitting in the attic, where it seemed like no time had passed at all. His grandson jumped on the rocking horse, rocked back and forth, and loved it too. The old man smiled as he watched life come full circle, all on the back of an old wooden rocking horse.
I hated that book.
It terrified me more than anything ever had in my short life. When my mother read it to me, much to her surprise, I started to cry.
How could something that meant so much to someone be forgotten so easily? Why did people have to grow old and move away? I feared time because it made everything change. In that moment, reading about that rocking horse, I knew that because of time I couldn’t stay the same. I would grow up and move out and leave behind what meant everything to me. And what I left behind would be sealed up, stored away in an attic and forgotten.
The part of the book I didn’t understand then was that time came full circle. The rocking horse didn’t stay forgotten. Life wasn’t a linear path where the past stayed behind us and time pushed us forward. I realized this, one night on a front porch while listening to jazz and swing.
My uncle moved out of his childhood home. When my grandparents died he packed his bags and drove away from the city he grew up in. He moved into an ancient house in a small town. He bought it because of the front porch. It was one of those porches that wrapped all the way around the house. When he stood on it and looked out at the water, time stood still. He could picture a future in the house. He could feel a past in the house. There was something special about that front porch.
When I came to visit we listened to big band music, bluegrass, jazz, and swing. We sat on the porch, looked out at the water and let the music fill our world.
Then life got scary. I graduated high school, my mom got remarried, and my friends moved away. I was the rocking horse they all left behind. Time was making everyone go forward, but I just wanted to stay. Stay a little girl, stay small and unafraid. Life moved too quickly and no one else seemed to care. I cared that suddenly I was expected to grow up and everyone else already had. I cared that everyone was leaving but I couldn’t bring myself to. It was all because of time. I hated it again. That life changing, forward moving, unending time.
One night I was sitting on my uncle’s front porch like I always did. It was a heavy, humid night that seemed to stretch on forever. The clang and ring of jazz notes rung in my ears and candlelight flickered in my eyes. My bare feet skimmed the bumpy wooden deck as I moved back and forth in my rocking chair. I looked lazily at the hill below us, the water stretching out before us, the people walking by from time to time.
There is something about front porches that makes me see things in a different way. I think it’s because I’m separated from the people walking by, watching them from my own little perch. The world keeps moving and the front porch is the fixed centre of it all. It makes it seem like everything is endless. On a front porch the evening lasts forever. Streetlights cast pools of yellow light on the road. People walk through them on their way to somewhere or someone. I rocked, staying still for a while as lives moved continuously around me.
I began to think about how many people had sat on this very porch. Someone laid the bricks, carved the railing, painted the steps. It has stayed the same through over a century of hurricanes, snow storms, and two world wars. The world has changed so much in the time this house has stood here. I thought about how many people have lived in this house, sat on this front porch and watched life pass by. I can picture a young woman a hundred years ago, holding onto the railing and looking out at the same water I looked at now. Maybe her children did too. They could have stood where she stood, thinking about the time she spent there when she was young.
It was then that I realized it’s natural for time to keep moving. It has to. If time didn’t move forward, there wouldn’t be pasts to remember or futures to look forward to. Moments we treasure most wouldn’t happen, the years we look back on wouldn’t have happened. The men and women who once stood on my uncle’s front porch would never have looked out at the water, their children would never have been born.
In that moment I loved time, because it made that front porch in that small town on that summer night mean something. It was enough for me to sit there for that one infinite night as a part of something bigger than me. Lives come and go, changes happen in my own life and time moves faster than I want it to sometimes. But it moved me here. I was oddly calm knowing I am merely one of the lives that porch will see. It’s exciting to know there’s so much life left to be lived, so much time to live it.
Maybe what we leave behind isn’t forgotten. Maybe all the lives lived on that porch are connected somehow. A long time from now I might come back here with my granddaughter and find this porch the same as I left it. It will seem like no time has passed at all. Maybe change is worth it if we get to rock back and forth on a front porch, listening to jazz and breathing the night in. If, for a little while, being alive feels endless. Even if I only had that one night, that one tiny moment, I’d be thankful for the time.
By Ashley Foy
Featuring artwork from Wellington Sanipe!