"it's in the past", we say, by which we mean, "it's over and done with".
but if my experience of my grandfather driving me to the dry cleaners three days before he died was wrapped up once i hugged him goodbye, then it seems hard to explain how I can, in the present, open back up that time to see it anew. there was something very significant happening that Wednesday afternoon, even though at the time i was mostly caught up worrying about a conference paper.
time has passed. the details less vivid. yet somehow I see more clearly: for the first and last time in his history, he removed all the images and expectations that typically mediated our interactions: my grandfather and i had coffee while we waited for my suit to be altered and he talked to me like i was another human being. such an unexpected and rare thing event. i recount the story to his children and they think i'm lying.
what i experienced that day was all there was to experience: there was only ever going to be that single time my grandfather inspected my suit carefully, watching as tailor measured me. on the car ride home, he gave me advice about travelling to London. he used particular words in a particular order. i responded in the way that i did, and will never be able to respond otherwise. the weather was sunny, not rainy. these aspects of the past are determinate, and yet, even then, i didn't experience that Wednesday with my grandfather as a closed case. it was unlike, say, the experience of math puzzle: once I figure out that 2 + 2 = 4, and not 5, i don't feel as if there is anything else to figure out. i know what the future is going to be like when it comes to the issue of what happens when 2 and 2 are put together.
on that Wednesday 4 years ago i had to already be experiencing the car ride to Richmond Hill, my grandfather negotiating the price, the three sugars i put in his coffee with the implicit realization that everything i was experiencing was open to being seen from other sides - even if i didn't notice this particular dimension of my experience.
i had to be implicitly alive to the way I was, on that Wednesday, here, with my grandfather, and yet, my "here" wasn't entirely all "here": I was inhabiting the situation only from a partial side. Only from the side of my stalk character grandson, who obliged his very determined grandfather to drive to Richmond Hill just because he happens to know some dry cleaning guy. It took a lot of other experiences - his death, seeing his childhood photographs, going through his old ties, taking up his role of caring for my grandmother - to make me see that Wednesday afternoon for what it really was: his final, yet open-ended, hug whose meaning will last me until i die.