Before and After

I once had quite an extraordinary neighbour. She lived alone and was just a month short of her 100th birthday when she died in her sleep one winter night.

For the five or six years we lived next door to each other, we shared a perhaps twice-annually ritual: My phone would ring; she would introduce herself with her full name, adding “your next door neighbour” (just to be absolutely clear who it was), then invite me over for tea “in one-half hour”.

Once there, I wasn’t allowed to move from the chair where I was seated while she brought tea and biscuits for us both. She would brook no help in providing hospitality. Given how slowly she moved, by the time both of us settled in with tea and biscuits, it was quite a while. But that was when the magical part of the visits took place.

She was a minuscule, frail woman, but her faculties had remained almost perfectly intact. She spoke engagingly about her time on earth; mostly of the change she had seen unfold. She’d lived almost 50 years in the same house, had outlived her planned executors by a considerable margin (to her chagrin) and showed not a hint of nostalgia about any of it. But she did exhibit the sense of wistful wonderment.

I’m starting to see more than just a hint of what she must have felt like. For example, I’m still in continual awe of this Internet thing. I remember my first computer (a Commodore 64), 2200 baud modems and learning a bit about programming in B.A.S.I.C. That’s why where we are now is so damned amazing to me. Pretty much every time I boot up, I shake my head at the sheer wonder of it all.

I feel a sense of privilege about it all, too. The ‘youngsters’ who were born into it, can’t fail to miss the wonder of “what it was like” seemingly just a short time ago. To them, it’s routine. But their time will come…..

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