This week I step further into the mysterious world of midlife. And to celebrate, each day, I will post a song that holds significance from my past.
Let’s start with my first love song… Time In A Bottle by Jim Croce
I first learned the true meaning of love in the back seat of a Malibu Classic.
I was five years old, a passenger on the weekly journey to the A&P and Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime, along with my younger brothers. My mom, who patiently endured the back-of-the-car antics of the five-and-under crowd, always had the radio on. Time In A Bottle was in heavy rotation on our town’s biggest AM radio station, and just hearing the song in my head brings back the sensation of looking out the window watching life go by at 30 miles per hour.
I can’t remember what intersection we were at, but I can picture the stop sign, the crossroad and the overgrown grass around the old bungalow that occupied the corner lot amid the new houses surrounding it. The theme from M.A.S.H. was ending and Time In A Bottle began. By the closing notes of the song, I realized that love was more than just a word.
If I could make days last forever… if words could make wishes come true… I’d save every day like a treasure and then, again, I would spend them with you.
It dawned on me… each moment that passed, I was getting older. Each moment that I aged, my parents were aging too. I panicked at the thought – kids make parents grow old. By having us, they were committing to a life limited by the passing of time.
So, for the next several months, I thought about how I could stop myself from growing up. By doing so, I would keep my parents young. But despite actually thinking something as crazy as being childless would stop time for them, I knew that not growing up, for a child at least, was impossible. These were the sands of time, slipping out of my desperate little hands, and I was helpless to stop them.
And I have never been able to listen to Time In A Bottle without feeling the twinge of regret I knew as a small child.
Ironically, Jim Croce died shortly after releasing this song. I knew this as a child, because the DJ often said, “That was the late Jim Croce…” His death brought even more meaning to the lyrics. It was a reminder that I would not be the five-year-old in the back seat of the Malibu Classic forever, just like Jim Croce wasn’t a recording artist forever.
Now, I realize that my reaction to this song was right in many ways, aside from the idea that people won’t age if they don’t have children. Parenting is a sacrifice. Moms and dads commit their lives to their children. Raising a child speeds up time immensely. Jim Croce was right that there never seems to be enough time.
Years later, I have kids of my own. My youngest is seven, and he has inherited my sensitivity to sad songs. Even those that don’t have heartbreaking lyrics speak to him with their melancholy melodies.
I told my son this story about Jim Croce’s song. I laughed when I told him about my strange first reaction to the lyrics, hoping that he would find this silly. Like many children, he says he wants to stay with me forever. But I know that I will hang on to him much longer than he will need me. He and his older sister will never fathom how much I love them until they become parents themselves.
There is something about the vulnerability of love, whatever form it takes or relationships it creates, that ties back to Time In A Bottle. Love can be sad, like the melody. It can be sweet, like the lyrics. It can last forever and not long enough.
A couple of months ago, I heard the chiming first notes of Time In A Bottle while switching radio stations in the car. In the back seat of our MDX, my son listened for a bit, frowned and, in a sad voice, asked me to turn off the song. Then, he turned toward the window and watched the world go by at 30 miles per hour.