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Umberto Boccioni: Synthèse du dynamisme humain [Synthesis of Human Dynamism] (1913)
"Agelessly aging."

No formal course of study prepared me to fulfill this role, though a lifetime of distracted observation seems to have at least prepared me to recognize myself cast to perform in it, however otherwise unprepared I might feel. The prior generation gone, I remain the last male standing. Father and father-in-law passed, I'm now the one who drives to Portland in an old person's car to see his offspring and his children. I'm the one staying in that hotel. I'm the one charged with imperfectly remembering when. It's my head shaking when noticing that another something's gone to Hell. I'm the one bemoaning the incessant gentrifying that chased away the innocent city that once used to be but stands no longer. I insist that an actual shark, teeth gleaming, was driving that shark car to utterly disbelieving but secretly appreciating grandchildren. I'm the guy who's funny but seems sort of unreliable. I speak of far away places nobody else can really relate to. I've earned a certain respect, I suppose, if only by dint of my longevity. I speak with an expected hollow authority. I drive like a hayseed.

But Patriarching's no insignificant thing.
It bookends one end of a continuing story, connecting today to all of known history, filling in the hollow spaces with obviously spurious details. No longer a slave to fashion or anything, really, I noticed as we were arriving that I'd grabbed the wrong shirt that morning, the one splattered with oxblood-colored stain from a past woodworking project such that I looked as though I'd recently survived an encounter with a malevolent mongoose. My pants, The Muse noticed, were the ones that somehow survived my bout with some surprisingly caustic deck wash and looked inexpertly tie-died, though they had not been. I appeared disheveled but I was just suffering the effects of a few weeks of concerted SettlingInto, hardly a terminal diagnosis. I felt younger than I'd felt in years, though I was there to fulfill the role solely reserved for the eldest. I attempted gravitas and produced a pratfall instead. So much the better for the rest of us, I suspect they said to themselves.

I understand that I'm now charged with acting as though I possess or at least have some limited access to fonts of wisdom, but I clearly remain just as clueless as I ever was. I'm nodding off by eight in the evening and agree to sit up a little later, nursing a beer, though I'm clearly only partly there by then. I find the grandkids still that delightful mixture of deeply endearing and utterly annoying, since I'm clearly not supposed to be in on the inside joke motivating them forward. They embody irreverence so damned endearingly that I can't but forgive them their innocent trespasses, and even their clearly more malevolent ones. They are my heritage, the ones who will remember or forget the stories. I have little in the way of wisdom to impart, though I recall that my patriarchs never spouted much of anything profound yet still somehow managed to pass on an understanding of what I would one day find myself becoming and expected to spread around. I suppose that they in turn were equally unprepared, by which I mean: perfectly positioned.

Significance is never transmitted through explicit messages. It infects without employing the obvious. It's apparently a sleight-of-body trick, one in which no one ever suspects its presence. Often employing The Quirk, it does its work invisibly but effectively influences long after leaving. A set of jaw or a particular gait. A manner of speaking impossible to relate to. A furtive look in a clouding eye. All these and more successfully conspire to say what could never otherwise be shared. It's enough, I suspect, that the patriarch is there, present, and soon to be absent again. He's a drop-in visitor of great significance who seems just as familiar as the same old song and dance. He's wearing funny pants. He looks as though he's recently survived an encounter with a malevolent mongoose. He's just there doing his work the best he can, feeling about eight while closing in on eighty. Agelessly aging.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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