The other day I wrote to Tía Angela, the head of the nursery at Hogar Redes in Chile, where I spent my summer (for those who didn’t follow chillinchile.tumblr.com), to ask how she and the babies were doing, to send my love, to let her know that I haven’t for a second stopped thinking about them. She wrote back a few days later saying she was well but that out of the eight babies I had spent my time with, only a few remained. Some had left in adoption, others had gone back home with their parents, and the group that had been there from June to August was all but dissolved. And while I was of course overjoyed to hear that many of the infants I’d cared for had moved to more permanent homes, it was strange to think of that small, bright room in the orphanage filled with different faces. The room that it was, the little family that it housed, has shifted and changed, has become something I will never see, something I will never experience. The children there are children that I will never get to know. And for the babies I held, the babies I fed, the babies I changed, many of them have moved past the Hogar Redes moment in their lives, onto another moment, a moment I’ll never know anything about. Time is strange that way, these tiny moments we inhabit end so quickly, morph into something else, something unrecognizable, and what we knew becomes brittle and crumbles quietly into dust.
When I walked out under the archway of Hogar Redes for the last time in August, I looked at all of the babies lying in their cribs, peaceful and content after their afternoon feeding, knowing that they would forever be frozen in that instant for me. No matter how much time passed afterward, I would always keep those eight little people as infants in my mind. They will never be able to exist in any other form, and no matter how much they continue to grow I will never see it. I will never know them as two year olds, as teenagers, as adults. I will only ever know them as infants, in that room, in Hogar Redes.
Time passes strangely in places we are not. It seems wispy, diminished, forgotten–the distance makes it feel imaginary. We are not paying attention, so the normal markers of time: growth, change, dust– don’t remind us. Things that seem to take ages in our own, immediate lives, can happen in seconds somewhere else– all of a sudden we realize our little brothers aren’t little anymore, entire buildings have been built blocking the shoreline, babies have left the orphanage and are now part of their families again. These things seem immediate to us because we aren’t there to watch them in their slowness, in their gradual strokes. All we have is the last time we saw them, and now. Without being there to watch the time pass, to watch the things change, everything seems lightning quick. And conversely, when we are there to watch, change creeps along so quietly that we often don’t notice it at all. But whether time is passing right in front of us or a world away, it is never not moving.
By the time I get home for Thanksgiving, both my little brother and my puppy will have grown up. By the time I’m back at Northwestern for my 10-year reunion the campus will look nearly unrecognizable. Everything, no matter what it is, is momentary. It may continue moment to moment to appear constant, but everything is momentary. To create our worlds, to create the images we have in our head, we must somehow preserve what we see and experience in all of its momentary-ness. It might seem futile, as in a few more moments it will have changed again, but we must do it. Even though most of the babies I was with in the nursery are no longer there, I still have a photograph hanging in my room of all of them piled into the large yellow crib we used for earthquake drills, leaning on each other, looking in all different directions. It may no longer be an accurate portrait of the nursery at Hogar Redes but it is the portrait I keep with me, the preservation of that moment of their lives, of that moment of my life.