When counted as a stack of days, ten years is a long time. In the history of a place, though, ten years depends entirely on when. Lansing, small and rural, looked almost identical this August. Ithaca has changed, with some new buildings, a Starbucks in Collegetown, a Walmart on Rte 13. These are small shifts, though passionately fought against for years. They are changes that do not disguise the place, save to those who have spent every day there. All changes like that happened long before, in waves that have long left upstate New York.
Shanghai has become a creature completely unrecognizable to the countryside from whence it sprung, a decade earlier. Those still able to find their way through the streets to their homes have mapped each change and watched their neighbors move on, move outwards, move up with the construction. But it is not the larger places that have changed most these past ten years, New York and Tokyo still very similar to their counterparts of nineteen ninety eight. Rather a decade’s worth of change is a matter of focus, a matter of effort. Change is something that must be made, conscious and full-willing, despite the scale of time.
A decade is a long time to a person. Or it can be. People change by waking up and doing different, rather than simply as they have before. People change by waking up and doing. From nineteen to twenty nine seems long enough a corridor that memories from either end throw strange echoes off the wall. Yet maybe from some greater remove of age the gap would not seem so great. Or perhaps from a life with less motion, with less change in the same period, the similarities would shine through.
A decade ago prosperity seemed possible, democracy seemed casual, intelligence seemed valuable. A decade ago growing old together seemed half madness, half obvious. Growing old at nineteen an impossibility, a myth from those with no connection to the age. May it always seem this way to those old enough to vote yet not to drink, and may they not always be given only one of those privileges. Ten years ago the idea that the people I knew I would continue to was more basic a fact than gravity. Friendships built in the fires of high school, of late night drives and semi-legal building climbs would endure anything.
A decade ago. Yet here we stand, separated by every one of those stack of days. Because there is another fact ignored in the belief stated above, that change comes from waking up and doing. Sometimes change comes from not waking up, and not doing. Ten years ago that seemed an impossible choice. Today it seems even more so, reinforced by each decision I make, each place I see. Of all the changes these years have brought, wars, jobs, friendships, travels, the one hardest to imagine is their lack.
Gary Snyder’s words linger as I type in a cafe in Houston, a city impossibly far from our high school plans. “Ten years and more have gone by, I’ve always known where you were.” And I have. And each morning I get up and do, making changes that take me further and further away from this day ten years ago, in nineteen ninety eight.
The confluence of dates is simple coincidence, but I think you’d be grinning at the change we’ve been working on, given the decade that’s come and gone. I think you’d want to celebrate, and climb things, and run around with that wild look in your eyes, just like I will, tonight.
And sometimes, for a matter of hours in the span of these years, the distance doesn’t seem so long.
Quoted line from Gary Snyder’s ‘December at Yase’, the final poem of his ‘Four Poems for Robin’ published in The Back Country (1968), No Nature (1992) and The Gary Snyder Reader (1999)