Several things have prompted the thoughts about this piece and the writing itself on this Mother’s Day 2015.
Seeing the many glorious pictures of mothers, lovingly posted with comments and reminiscences by children, spouses, grandchildren and friends.
Feeling my age, almost fifty-eight now, and that associated middle-aged angst, quite normal I’m afraid, that we all experience at this time of life. If you’ve navigated it and come out on the other side, bravo. If you’ve not yet arrived at the rocky shoals, don’t worry. Your time will come soon enough. Don’t rush it.
Feeling others’ expectations and reading others’ thoughts about time and what it means to them, how it affects them as they age.
At any rate, all these tiny bright droplets have coalesced in my brain into a trickling, sun-dappled stream and then a rushing, rapid-filled course and finally into a broad, slow-moving, deep-running river of thought and feeling that, while hard to explain and write down, has burst its sluice and will be written, whether I want it to or not.
Ideas, rushing, wet, powerful, ideas, will crash through the locks and dams we build to hold them back and carve out their own winding ways towards the ocean. They will not be stopped. Nor should they be.
So, my dear readers, time.
Time may be spent, enjoyed, reveled in, soaked up like sunshine on a spring afternoon, full of promise and tenderness and the expectation of joy that never ends.
Time may be wasted, frittered away on trifling and trivial matters both large and small, things that in the long run mean nothing, but in the short run consume us like fire.
Time may be squandered, absolutely obliterated by the ceaseless worries we give ourselves as gifts, the mental torture that feels like productivity but that disappears like acrid smoke borne off on the chill wind of autumn.
And, yes, friends, time may be used, wisely used, to live life and enjoy all things bright and beautiful and wonderful and good and holy and miraculous. It may bend and slow and wind deliciously through the exquisite waiting for Christmas or the lazy, hazy enjoyment of a summer’s day with catfish dancing on the line and leafy green shade and fluffy cotton candy clouds at end of day, tinged with the pink light of an afternoon well-spent and another grand memory made.
Time is finite for all of us. There’s the rub, isn’t it? This thing called time will end for all of us one day. It is the natural state of things, at least in this physical world that we inhabit now, to be born, to grow, and to die. This stream of consciousness, this awareness, this taking in and processing and living and being, all of it will cease one day. That is the natural course of things, as natural as that slow, relentless roll of river from mouth to ocean.
Yes, time rolls, is fluid, is as slippery and hard to hold onto as that glistening water is if we scoop up a handful of it from Vicksburg or New Orleans or the Gulf of Mexico. It is still the same water, life-giving and nurturing and absolutely necessary for survival, but it has been changed somehow, from north to south, from trickle to rapids to torrent to smooth ocean egress. It has been polished, filtered, imbued with tastes and packed with sediments and particles so small that they cannot be seen by the naked eye. It has been changed with the experience of the ride from birth to death.
Time cannot be controlled, oh no. We fool ourselves daily, dear readers, with our calendars and our schedulers and our theories of time in a box, take it out and wind it up and watch it go. We control time no more than we control our own breathing. We can manage it, yes, I’ll give you that, just as we can make ourselves breathe in and out until the tingling starts around the corners of our mouths and the fingers start to tingle and we know that if we keep doing this that we will soon pass out. We can manage lots of things in this life. We control very few. Time will not be controlled by us, not by anyone. It is fluid, it rolls on, relentless, purposeful and yet with absolutely no certain purpose except to be, to watch, to bear witness to the world that was, the world that is, the world that might be, just around the bend.
Time will end for all of us one day, today or tomorrow or next month or next year or in fifty years. Even so, it will go on, infinitely as far as we will know in our then state of non-being.
We often speak of the past, thinking about it, reliving it, remembering it, dissecting it, wanting somehow to bring back the very best parts of it, the good old days. Some of it we want to change, so desperately. The accident, the diagnosis, the failed love, the loss, the shame, the guilt, the mistakes, oh, the mistakes that if we could just go back and re-do, would change our lives and bring us to that present place called perfect that we all think we need to be.
That’s the fallacy, don’t you see?
There is no past. It does not exist.
There is only the present that was.
We lived it then and it shaped us, just as that rushing river shapes the ground underneath it, carving out a course and direction that even mighty dams cannot alter forever.
We lived our present that was, every one of us. Over and over and over again, we had present moments, opportunities to do the right thing, say something, feel something, reach out, make a difference, change the world. We lived those present moments, as did our great-great-great-great grandparents. We made our choices. We acted, or we did not. Simple as that.
Do not despair that I’ve taken away your memories or your second chances. My words don’t have that power.
Neither do they have the power to give you the hope of a future that will correct your mistakes or bring you happiness.
Because you see, there is also no future for any of us.
There is only the present that will be.
All the worry and the preparation and the mental machinations and the planning and the scheming in the world will not change a thing for me, or for you. I have learned that as I grow older. I have plenty of time, all the time I need, in fact, to get to the present that will be. When I arrive there, I will do my very best to do the right thing, make the right decision, say what needs to be said. But I will not drive myself mad by worrying about how I will get there, whether I will get there.
The only time that exists for me, for you, is this present that we live in today. It is the only thing that is real. It is as real as this hot cup of coffee that sits by my right hand and sends off steam from liquid that will burn my lips just as surely as the sun will rise this morning if I drink it too fast.
The past will not burn me. Neither will the future.
The only time for us, dear readers, is now.
What to do? How to embrace this knowledge that the present that was and the present that will be are things that don’t need our attention? That we don’t need to spend one more second of this river of time rushing past us worrying about how to fix them or change them or anticipate them so that they will be perfect?
1) Embrace the time you are given today. Accept it gratefully and with an open heart and mind. It is the only time you have.
2) Mark it as your own. It does not belong to your memories or your failed expectations or the dreams of others. It is yours.
3) Use it fully. Do not squander a single minute of it. You are not too tired, too busy, too preoccupied, too worried, too important, or too overbooked. You have today. Do something with it.
4) Enjoy it. Immensely. Ridiculously. Over-the-top. Crazily. Like it is the last present day you will ever have. Because it is. Tomorrow it will become the present that was, and it will be out of your reach.
5) When this time is over, relinquish it with the same gratitude that you greeted it with at the start of the day. No anger. No regret. No fear. No sadness. No second guessing. Let it go. It is finished. There will be time enough tomorrow, the present that will be. Enjoy the letting go with as much gusto and gut-wrenching feeling as you enjoyed the gift of time in the first place. It was never yours to keep. Remember that, and you will never again fear letting it go.
My friends, there is only now. Today.
When my time is up, I will be no more. That is as it should be.
My time to make a difference, to live, love, learn, help, to make a real mark on this world, is today.
This post is my gift to you today. Thank you for taking some of your present, your precious time, to read it and to think about it.