Inflection

If we had relived every moment of Elena’s life in the time since she died, today we would have come to the end once again.

The inflection point came somewhere around eight this morning. That was the moment at which Elena had been dead as long as she was alive.

I can’t remember living through a moment like that. Not with someone I knew and loved.

We usually think about these inflection points with famous people who are long dead.

Martin Luther King, Jr has been dead longer than he lived. He was killed before his fortieth birthday. He’s been gone for forty-five years.

Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed more than one hundred years before King. He’s been dead longer than he was alive.

Of course, that’s different.

You don’t often hear “if Abraham Lincoln were alive today.” He’d be two hundred and four years old.

You sometimes hear “if Abraham Lincoln were born today.” This is meant to convey wonder about what Lincoln would have been like if he’d lived in our times. Of course, our times would have been different if Lincoln wasn’t born when he was. Would the United States be two countries or one?

If Lincoln were born today in this world of iPhone and internet, would he have been different? Are we assuming he would be born in Illinois and grow to be a lawyer and eventually president?

In the last few months we’ve heard a surprising amount of people say “if Martin Luther King were alive today.”

King would be in his eighties. That’s a reasonable thing to speculate on.

The speculation, however, has been fascinating. Recently, an advocate of gun rights speculated that if Martin Luther King were alive today he would support unfettered access to guns. Others have been horrified by this. After all, King was assassinated with a gun. Of course, if King were alive today, he wouldn’t have been assassinated with a gun.

The truth is, we can’t know what King would or would not have supported if he were alive today.

King made changes during his own lifetime — he certainly would have made changes since.

He’s been dead longer than he lived. We can’t possibly know what would top his list today.

What would he have thought when he woke up this morning, the day after a black president delivered his fifth State of the Union address to Congress?

We can’t know.

Last night, President Obama pointed out an elderly black woman who stood in line for six hours just to cast her vote. Elderly might be an understatement. She was one hundred and two years old.

One hundred and two. Half of two hundred and four. She’s been alive half of the time since Lincoln was born.

Charles Darwin was born the exact same day as Lincoln. He died in 1882 less than thirty years since this elderly voter was born.

We measure time in terms of lives of people we know. “Oh that was before I was born.” “9-11 happened the week after my grandfather died.”

Elena has been gone longer than she was alive.

The inflection moment was here and it’s gone. She’ll always be dead longer than she was alive.

If Elena were alive today she would be an eighth grader. She wouldn’t yet be fourteen.

Would she be confirmed in the Catholic church? Bat Mitzvahed? There’s no way to know. What instrument would she play in the band? What language would she have chosen? Would she have gone to the school dances? Would she be tall or short? Would she still be a bundle of energy?

When I see her classmates I can just make out the six and seven year-olds living inside them. Their voices are changing. They no longer look or sound like I remember. They are trying on the clothes and ideas of people older than they are.

They are becoming who they will be.

They are amazing.

If Elena were alive today. . .

There’s just no end to that sentence.

She’s not.

I still have a lot of unanswered questions that I ask every day.

Published in: on February 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm  Comments (6)