Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Did you see this movie? The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a 2008 film with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, based on a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a boy who is born as a 70 year old man, who gradually gets younger as the years pass. He lives in reverse, growing younger instead of older as the decades go by.
This is not the first time I have been interested in a story of someone growing younger, moving in reverse. In the 1958 novel bu T.H. White, "The Once and Future King", Merlin makes references to things that are hundreds of years in the future as though they happened "before" - when he was so much older than he is now. He complains about it, knowing that Arthur will never really understand why Merlin can remember World War II.
The Ho'chunk nation (we call them Winnebagos, and no, they are not RVs) is an entire nation that believes we live backwards. They say that the past is in front of you, which is why you can see it coming, and the future is behind you, which is why its invisible. Which, when you really stop and think it over, makes a lot of sense.
One of my favorite songwriters, David Wilcox, has a song called "Start With The Ending", which is about living your relationships as though they are about to end, and must be cherished because they have already faded away. I think I am living backwards myself. It's confusing, but not so bad. In fact, I rather like it.
I used to be very concerned about seeming childish; I greatly resented being thought of as immature. I didn't much like other kids my own age because of this very attribute. Now I teach children how to make fart noises with the crooks of their arms, and how to look like you are sticking your finger in your ear so that it pokes the cheek on the opposite side of your head. I used to care a lot more about my dignity, of being taken seriously, and understood. Now I pretty much assume I am out in left field and the ball is not going to get out here anytime soon. I used to want to accomplish things of importance, and leave something behind me that was impressive, mature, poignant and deep.
Now I think a lot about what will make my dog laugh. I used to be so much smarter and more sure of the right things to do. I had so many more answers, and I was certain of what was black and what was white. I was less forgiving of hits and misses, because I was so much more clear in my mind. Now, I only know simple things, like how to tease a smile out of a two year old, and get the same smile out of an 80 year old.
I used to have so much knowledge in my head. Now, it seems, I am voracious for more. I am a black hole, sucking up every scrap of light and information that comes across my path. I want to know what makes sun spots, why bees can fly, what it takes for sound waves in the air to become Beethoven in my ear, why cats purr, what happens after we die. I want to know why I can be such a jerk sometimes.
I have become positively ridiculous. I used to be in so much more control of my emotions. I used to laugh less, cry less, control my anger better. I used to wonder why adults weep when they are happy and laugh when they are bitterly disappointed. Fifty years later when I do these things myself, I still don't know. I think I am living backwards, getting less dignified than I was at ten. I do not think I can stop this process, any more than Merlin or Benjamin Button could. But I am different from them. I am enjoying it. Being five is AWESOME.

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