By now, we’re halfway to Christmas, halfway to winter, halfway to new resolutions. We mark our halfway points by looking toward the end.
I’m 43 years old, and if statistics hold, I’m at the midpoint of my life. A few years ago, someone told me that it isn’t the date on either end of a tombstone, but, rather, the dash in the middle, that matters. I like that. The stuff in the middle — the filler — is what makes us.
The middle is the peak of the mountain. It’s the arc in the basketball free throw. It’s the cream in the Oreo cookie. It’s the bridge in the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” It’s second base on a baseball field. It’s the line up a tree where the trunk stops and the peaches hang. It’s the sweet spot at the top of the roller coaster, the pivot where the car balances for that split second before the laws of physics engage and the rider — that’s you, that’s me — changes direction.
The midpoint marks the contrast between everything that came before and everything that comes after, but sometimes we get so focused on how things will turn out — or we get bogged down worrying about the past — that we forget to live in our middle moments, the ones that seem insignificant because they don’t come with the fanfare of beginnings or endings.
But some middle moments stay with us.
Here is July 4, many years ago: My grandmother unspools the flag and hangs it from the pole off the porch. By noon, here comes the family — aunts, uncles; cousins, Abe and Jade and Stevra and Pete and Kent and Jimmy; and my mom and dad, who closed their shop for the holiday.
My grandfather goes out for a bag of ice and then pulls the Proctor Silex ice cream churn from the basement, the one with the wood-paneled sides and an electric motor that sits on top.
We all eat cold fried chicken from paper plates on the porch, and my grandmother pours a mixture — egg yolks and milk and vanilla and sugar — into the metal can and sits it in the bucket and layers in ice and rock salt.
She pops the brown power unit on top, and the can hums as it turns around and around the dasher, and the ice melts and runs out the holes in the bucket’s side, and my grandfather fetches towels to wrap around the base to keep the salty-cold water from spilling onto the porch, and we all sit and dangle our legs from the swing and watch bees flit in and out of the rose bushes, and it is the greatest day.
And I remember this, too: the flag flapping against a startlingly blue sky and the smell of sweetshrub in the air and a sense that the world is as full and ripe as it will ever get — a season in full swing, the midpoint of summer, no hint of the past, no thought to the future.
Surely, the moment — this moment — will last forever.
Just then someone yells “Hill!” and my cousins and I run to the hill past the house and scamper to the top and lie down with our arms tucked into our chests and hurl ourselves down that hill, rolling, rolling, rolling, and I don’t remember now the top or the end, just the middle, just the spot where we pick up momentum and there is absolutely no stopping, not even if we wanted to.