Down the hall

Seeing you, there and then, who would ever imagine you as you are now? For years you have strode out the door of family mornings, newspaper and briefcase in hand, purpose and responsibilities shouldered. A bowler and a topcoat complete the picture. You are the guardian of the trust and security of so many. Wife. Children. Grandchildren. Colleagues. Friends. Looking at you as you rush for the train, who would guess you still carry that little child inside you?

Look at those child hands. Those uncertain fingers of that long ago day and doorway now close deals, juggle phones, heft logs. They trade stocks and bonds, pilot courses and fearlessly lift forkfuls of all sorts of strange food and drink. Such things once caused you to turn your face away and seek solace in your mother's lap.

Your mother. Who, now, can imagine you as ''Son,'' ''Little One,'' ''My Boy?'' No one but you. You answer when you hear those names wafting up some staircase, echoing across some evening deep inside yourself. You remember those names, just as you remember the cold drafts and the vulnerability you have not been exposed to since you stepped into long pants and abandoned the frills and skirts of an old-fashioned infancy.

Do you remember that particular outfit? Do you remember the way the cuffs of the sleeves buttoned? Someone, your mother or a nurse, had to fasten them for you. You still have trouble fastening cuff links, don't you? Look at your old shoes. They seem both too large and laughably small. Objectively, you would have to say that child has big feet. But looking back at those shoes, turning back through leaves and leaves of memory, you see them lying soft and forgotten where you let them fall on the floor of your dusky room. They are so small. That room. Those shoes.

At one time that room, those shoes, the doorway and hall, were the limits of your universe. You were its center. Now, you have all but forgotten them. The number of their days in your life is less than the number of cells composing the moon of one of your thumbnails. Still, those shoes and hands, the word on the tip of your long-ago tongue, the world inside your long-ago head, continue to shape what you have become. Look at the shape of your shadow. Can you hear how all those aspects of you jostle and whisper within?

Look at the picture, and you see yourself as you were then. Do you remember what you were looking at with such wariness and yet with such curiosity? It was something secret. Something real but insubstantial that no one else could see. Look. It is advancing toward you, gaining form and features as it comes. Past the front door. Past the point where your mother and father stand murmuring in that melodious hum, preparing to go out for the evening. It is moving toward you , past the spot where your wagon would roll if you sent it rattling down the hall.

There is something strangely familiar about this fellow. Something that fills you with joy to see him. He comes forward, tall, exuberant, mouth a little open. His arms are extended toward you as toward a close friend. Extend your arms. Step forward and embrace him. He is you: As you have been, as you will be - maybe, as you are.

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