Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person "the world today" or "life" or reality" he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted itself upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever.
For me, this moment- four years is a moment in history- was the war... American is not, never has been, and never will be what the songs and poems call it, a land of plenty. Nylon, meat, gasoline, and steel are rare. There are too many jobs and not enough workers. Money is very easy to earn but rather hard to spend, because there isn't very much to buy... The war will always be fought very far from America and it will never end. Nothing in America stands still for very long, including the people, who are always either leaving, or on leave. People in America cry often...
There are just tiny fragments of pleasure and luxury in the world, and there is something unpatriotic about enjoying them. All foreign lands are inaccessible except to servicemen; they are vague, distant, and sealed off as though behind a curtain of plastic. The prevailing color of life in America is a dull, dark green called olive drab. That color is always respectable and always important. Most other colors risk being unpatriotic.
It is this special America, a very untypical one I guess, an unfamiliar transitional blur in the memories of most people, which is the real America for me.
This passage, and I left some of it out for brevity's sake, hit home to me today. My grandmother always said that a person reaches a certain age and never grows older in their mind. I thought that John Knowles did a spectacular job describing that phenomenon. Then, as he went on to describe the world of the main character, it felt as though he was describing America today. Certainly, not the lack of goods and other things to spend our money on, but the never ending war, the idea that we are not all that we claim to be.
And, perhaps this is just my perception of the America that we live in, as he says in that last sentence. Today, Gary turned in his active duty ID card in favor of a retiree's ID. In August, we left Kentucky to move to Colorado. Our world has been turned from a sedate olive drab to a kaleidoscope of color. There are no more leavings or being on leave. There is only us, immersed in all the colors that exist in the world. I can only hope that my moment in history is yet to come.