‘A day or two
- Douglas Florian, The Mayfly
J.M.W. Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway
The earliest known fossil of an insect is three hundred and ten million years old. It was discovered in the Wamsutta Formation of Massachusetts in 2010, and identified as Ephemeroptera. This prehistoric animal, the first to ever fly, was mentioned in one of the oldest texts ever written, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and still exists today. It is the common mayfly. And it lives for only a day.
‘On the face of the sun its countenance gazes, then all of a sudden nothing is there.’
Mayfly eggs remain dormant in freshwater for up to a year. When they hatch, the male and female seek one another out. They do not eat, they do not sleep. They mate, in flight, over a stream. The female lays the eggs, and by dusk, they float down onto the stream to die.
'it’s a fair day among the
The only one they get.
We humans get a few more. The first day of snowfall. The last day of school. Christmas day and New Year’s Day. Workdays and Sundays. Holidays and birthdays, leap days and lazy summer days. Happy and sad days. Days we remember, days we waste, days we choose, or not, to forget.
Any random day of these, we spend in random ways. Making coffee, making eggs. Making appointments, making lists. Making points, making excuses. Making time, compromises, sacrifices. Meanwhile, any random one of these, mayflies spend making love.
We may get more days than they, but they live better, and more.
‘There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.’
- Annie Dillard
How different our lives would be, if we spent them like one day. Not a last, or first, or birth or holiday. Not a happy, or sad, or particularly particular day. One random, good day.
If I were to live my life in a day, I would wake up early, somewhere on a Mediterranean beach. In my head, there would be an accordion tune and some wine from the night before. In a cloth bag, a half eaten baguette and half read book, perhaps an apple or two.
I would dust the sand out of my hair, the morning sun out of my eyes. Head into the still quiet city, to catch the morning train. In the station, some bread for the pigeons, some coins for the struggling artist, a small but rich coffee for me. With my last few cents, a postcard and stamp.
On the platform I’d find two tickets, and someone to travel with. Preferably a lover, preferably a friend. Who must laugh often, and must be kind. Must own a corkscrew, and a guitar. A seat by the window, some music to share. Just in time before the flag and whistle.
‘And the mist on the windows will start to fade
As the sun climbs higher in the sky,’
We would sit back with our coffee and croissants and watch the waking city clatter by. On a random day, in a random train.
I would go to northern Europe, for some window shopping in Milan and a view of the Rhine from Chur. A flânerie in Paris and some chocolates in Bruges. Vermeer in The Hague and Van Gogh in Amsterdam. Or perhaps to Italy, for a carnival in Venice and the galleries in Florence. Bread soaked in sweet wine in Rome, a midnight slice of pizza in Naples. Or to eastern Europe, for concerts and cakes. The thermal baths of Budapest, the beautiful blue Danube. Communist architecture in Bratislava and a sachertorte by the opera house in Vienna. A pause in Ljubljana before the churches of Zagreb. I would head up to Scandinavian funiculars and fjords, or stay warm in the south with a bowl of paella and a glass of Port.
Or I would spend the day staring out the window, and not once get off the train. Watching the cities, countryside, platforms and people unfold. Humming, reading, writing, daydreaming, kissing, drawing maps on my companion’s arms.
And when the day ends, I would get off the train, in some charming little town whose name I do not know. Having soaked in all the sunshine, tossed my last crumbs to the birds, sung along to every song and written every poem I know, I would walk over to the stream, find a blanket to get under, and float off to sleep.
‘May you live all the days of your life.’
- Jonathan Swift