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I don't say that as a man unhappy with his lot. If the person you live with is your best friend, and your children give you pride and pleasure, and if after 40 years you still can't imagine any work you'd rather do, that's a good deal to be grateful for.Even so, life is a process of subtraction.

I dreamed the other night that we had returned to the first house of our marriage. We just happened to be passing on that street and stopped, found the door unlocked and the place untenanted, and decided impulsively to live there again.

There had been changes, but nothing that could not be put right. For some unknown reason, an interior doorway had been boarded off. I pulled down the barrier, and there was our breakfast room as it used to be - with sunlight flooding in.

The feeling in that dream was of immense contentment.

And then, with a little wrench of grief, I woke and had to leave it and go down to start breakfast and bring the paper in.

Sitting at the breakfast table, I wondered why anyone would yearn so wistfully toward the past, when the present is in many ways quite satisfactory.

I like the house we live in now, and all the creatures we share it with. I do not object that our daughters have grown to womanhood, or that they are proceeding with their independent lives. That's the outcome a parent prays for.

The blank sheet of paper in the typewriter still unnerves me as it did in the beginning, and the elation when occa-sion-al-ly the words come right is as keen now as it ever was.

So where's the regret?

The poignancy of dreams must be that they remind us of the imprecision, the carelessness, of waking memory.

Like old films, stored away in some place you can enter only accidentally, dreams evoke the past exactly: the texture of things, the sound of voices as they were, the quality of light, the absolute feeling of how it was to be that age, unencumbered by knowledge of all the change to come.

I spoke of losses and subtractions. Mine have been no worse than anyone's, and less than many. They are part of the standard chronology.

A column like this one is something like a journal in which to record the fine detail of things and changes in the weather of the heart.

My only real sorrow is that I did not start it sooner, and notice better, and journal more faithfully.

With luck, I might have saved it all.