My vacation, like a mood, passed. For weeks, I lived, at a distance from my everyday life, on an island. Islands are, I am told, prime locations for vacations. Surely ours was.
We were removed from mainland and mainstream. The world lapped in and out of our cove with no more urgency or emergency than the tide.
Even the newspapers arrived at our mailbox late. With their vintage datelines, we didn't read them dutifully, but randomly, leisurely. By the time they arrived, the stories had already fallen into the space between news and history.
I had a sense, those weeks, of what it must have been like in the days before instant communication, when people received "news" across oceans. They learned about opening volleys in battles that were already won or lost. They were a chapter behind, hearing about things after they had happened. By contrast, we are usually up-to-date people, with news on the hour every hour.
I for one am by nature and profession a news junkie. For most of the year, I stay hooked to a 24-hour cycle, following names and faces from the front to the back pages and into obscurity.
Yet I didn't find my newslag unsettling. I wondered instead whether the daily alarm was mellowed among our ancestors by the time it took news to travel. I wondered how much of their perspective was formed by that distance.
I know the news that entered our cottage had been altered as it aged. The things that seemed important, no, Important, changed. It was as if I had dropped out of a soap opera audience, and lost track and interest in the cast of characters, the governments, the wars, the trends and bills.
In those weeks, the story that stuck with me most in one of my old papers, was not about worldly events but about the distant event of another world. In the vastness of space, scientists are observing a new solar system being born.
I might have ignored this astronomical discovery in my own pressing workaday life, in the confusion of breaking news. But here it stuck with me. I thought about it walking on country roads and lying in the hammock. I had the space to wonder about something cosmic, a vast time frame.
The only other bulletin that made the front page of my vacation mind every day was the weather. The state of the skies, like the condition of my tennis backhand and the status of the clam flats seemed to make a legitimate claim for attention.
By contrast, the belated stories of munchkins, the tales of national politics, the war bulletins rattled around in some space I had already emptied. The transience of daily events became more apparent at days' length across the bay. At times I even heard bizarre echoes of the old Tom Lehrer song: "They're rioting in Africa, tra, la, la."
Because the papers that came to our cottage were no longer news and not yet history, I asked different questions of them. Would Aquino's death be an isolated murder or the beginning of the end for Marcos? Would Barbara Honegger be seen as some minor Joan of Arc or a crazy lady who heard voices? Would it all be Important?
I wonder if our ancestors, less bombarded by daily bulletins, removed bytime and space, were more able to weigh Importance. Were they also more able to live in the near and far ground of their lives? While we live in daily cycles, were they more focused on both the minutes and the eons, minutiae and fundamentals, weather and solar systems?
I know only that my return here was as abrupt and startling as the crash of a Korean airliner. Immediately I am back to news that comes in bulletins, up-to-the- minute events. Again, I stay tuned.
Perhaps there is no leisure in our world of instant communications. While our ancestors carried letters in frigates from one capital to another, the leaders of nations are now pressured to respond as quickly as questions and answers can be formed, telephone lines joined, computers alerted.
I suppose that it is inevitable. Communication has kept pace with potential catastrophe. Distance, disengagement is now a luxury for islands and vacations.
Mine is over. Still, somewhere in the cosmos, a solar system is being born.