Hippie Squared: The Tide of Time


A blogumn by Jeff Rogers

My birthday this past Friday has me in a reflective mood. I’m forty-six. The gray has gained a foothold in my beard; and a few spindly long gray hairs wend their way among my brown locks.

“Cut that hair, hippie!” a young friend of mine at work said to me at the staff holiday party Friday afternoon, which by happy coincidence rang in my birthday weekend early. It was at Cicada, in one of those beautiful old buildings downtown. I like the people I work with.

He often says stuff like that to me. His hair’s short, of course. That’s okay, it looks good on him. He’s of his time as I never was of mine.

He ducked his head into my office one day and said, “When you gonna cut all that hair, hippie? You should donate it to that charity that makes wigs for cancer kids on chemo.”

I waited a beat. “They’ll have to fight me for it,” I said.

My boomer psychology is showing I know, but here in 2008 the seventies are as long ago as World War II was when my step-dad, Al used to regale the family with stories of growing up during that time. Hippies are as historically exotic to my friend at work as Nazis were when I was a kid killing them by the dozens with my brothers and friends in the woods around Junedale Drive and the playground at Bailey Elementary. For thirty years of TV and movies long hair is the chief cultural signifier for “hippie.” But it’s funny, because my long hair is not a flag. It’s not declaring any allegiance. Except maybe to my own personal aesthetic, which was formed, it’s true, in the late sixties and early seventies when I actually longed to have been old enough to be a real hippie. But that was long ago and now it’s just the way I like to wear my hair.

Meanwhile, the tide of time only moves one way. We only get older. And we all know how that turns out. No whining. Just a thought that arises more often as the harvest of the gray hairs approaches and the digits on that inescapable snooze-less alarm clock spin ever faster.

So my wife Elise and I had brunch today with some friends at 2:30 in the afternoon and finished up around dusk (That’s what I call a birthday weekend.) One friend said he’d done solo shrooms recently. “Cleaning the clock,” he called it. It reminded him of what matters. How we’re all inter-connected, with all of life. The classic psychedelic experience, even to the point of being psychedelic cliché, but still one of the most profound available experiences when it’s yours. As well as objectively true, without getting mystical or religious about it at all.

A related idea I’ve been walking and driving around with a lot this year is that of the moment as our fundamental unit of experience. There’s no fixed length for the “moment” but we know one when we’ve had it, don’t we? And because the tide of time only moves one way for us—because we live in the fourth dimension of time, without the freedom we have in space to jump this way and that—we only ever get the same moment once. No do-overs. We can try fruitlessly to recreate our favorite moments but we’re only beating our heads against the thick glass between now and then. Or we can turn our attention to what makes this exact moment—when I’m writing these words or you’re reading them—the only moment quite like this one that we’ll ever have. No one else is quite like you so no one else gets your precise moment, and you only get it once.

Learning to attend to our moments closer might build better years, I’m thinking. The watched moment boils. To keep all five or more senses tuned to each moment is enough for anyone to ever try to master. “To fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run,” Kipling had it. I claim no expertise in this at all but it seems worth striving for. And this birthday weekend I’ve been finding ways to dig my heels in a bit and put some drag on the mad dash of those stallions thrashing their heads against the reins.

Turning forty-six is better than I expected. I figure I’m heading into one of those periods where you get to duck down behind those looming five and ten year marks, fly beneath the radar and get some shit done. Get out ahead of that next decade turn.

And as time keeps gathering speed I’m seeing that some of the best ways of spending it maybe don’t slow it down exactly but at least let you claim a real stake in it. Time spent with people you enjoy, eating, talking, drinking, perhaps smoking, listening to music and holding forth. Moments like that you can expand into. Hours reading you can settle into. All I wanted out of my birthday weekend was to make some moments like those, and with the cheerful assistance of the friends and family I live and work with, I did okay.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that my wife got me an iPhone.

And yes, the obsession has set in. Will that speed time up or slow it down?

Anyone care to venture a guess?

Photo Credit: Top: trapac/flickr.com … St Nicholas, Ashmolean Museum Photo: Martin Beek