Setting the Pace

As I drove south on Woodward Avenue at dusk one winter evening, the little boy on the car seat next to me gasped at the suddenly glamorous big-city neon view as we crossed the Fisher Freeway threshold from Midtown into downtown.

Life unfolds like a windshield view, often at freeway speed — another reason to take surface streets. (That child’s first view of the glowing Fox Theatre sign wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive from the depths of the I-75 canyon at 65 mph.) Whatever the route, and regardless of speed, our only gear is forward. Like sharks, if we stop, we die.

Part of the appeal of holidays is that they can create the illusion of life idling blissfully in neutral. In that wonderful freeze-frame, when the electronic hum of the nation’s business is on pause, we can replay our TVO’d collection of traditions at will.

In the 12th month, past, present, and future are all guests at the table. In the waning days of the year, we play at the crossroads of old and new. We down a few cookies baked from an old family recipe and then play a few frames of Wii bowling. As we drive merrily toward Jan. 1, the words of loved ones (living and not) trail along for the ride, like balloons and cans bouncing gaily behind a “just married” sign.

Then, holidays over, it’s back to fast-forward living. Despite what we think, the good old days were hectic, too. Stephen Foster, America’s first great songwriter, referred to “life’s busy throng,” in his “Beautiful Dreamer,” a song we reference in our fashion feature. The clothes we don and the plans we make are all attempts to escape the routine and float through a dreamy evening.

In December, the most sentimental of times, our idealized vision of how things should be makes us more aware than usual of people who hover faceless at life’s edges.

On the empty nighttime avenues of our hometown, church bells seem to toll for their ears only. But those of us comfortable in our bright living rooms hear our own refrain about helping others.

Words exhorting us to pay it forward come in all forms and from all eras, including our own reminder.

From the past: Harriet Beecher Stowe, an American writer and contemporary of Stephen Foster, mused that, in the end, we shed bitter tears for deeds left undone.

And from the present: There’s simply this from a Hollywood romance movie: “I will protect you.”

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