Imagine with me, if you will, what life was like before the invention of clocks and watches. Days did not divide neatly into hours. Days were measured by where the sun stood in the sky and how dark or light it was. Days were measured by morning chores and family meals and when the goats were milked and when tomatoes picked. Imagine life before calendars when the seasons marked the passage of time and people counted how many new moons had passed since a baby was born to determine age and expected milestones in development. Back before artificial manmade constructs were invented to tame time, we lived in a world that unfolded organically. The pow-wow started when the drummers arrived, not at three o’clock on Sunday.
Sometimes I wish I lived in that world with fluid and organic measures of time. But even if I did, it would not prevent time from happening, from moving on its continuum governed by the laws of physics. As I grow older, and people pass on each year, I find myself spending more time in memory. All of us frequently engage in time travel. Living in the past (remembering) and living in the future (fantasizing and anticipating future events). Sometimes we go to the future in our minds to rehearse so we are better prepared for loss. Rehearsing the death of our parents. Rehearsing for the day when the children are grown and have left home. Rehearsing so we are prepared for these life-altering events. I try not to spend too much time rehearsing, but I think some rehearsing is healthy, a preparatory coping mechanism. But usually when I time travel to the future, I spend the time anticipating something good yet to come rather than preparing for inevitable passages that will make me melancholy.
Much as I enjoy reminiscing about good times and looking forward to more; and much as I spend considerable effort setting up opportunities to make more wonderful memories (planning family vacations, dinner parties, ocean visits); I, we, all of us, are ever always only living now. We may set ourselves up for enjoyable future “presents” (always good to plan these so there’s more to look forward to); but we are ever only in the present.
Once, when my daughter was about twelve years old, she kept accusing me of shrinking her jeans in the laundry. I assured her I was washing them in cold water. She insisted on drying them on the clothesline for a while, even though they came out so stiff we practically had to grease her up to get her into them. I tried to explain to her that she was just outgrowing the pants quickly. She couldn’t believe it. She was such a clothes hound that when she found a pair of jeans she liked, she couldn’t face the reality that she would outgrow them in a few months. I certainly wasn’t shrinking her shoes in the laundry, and they kept “getting smaller” as well. Eventually she understood that time was passing and she was growing, practically daily. That one always had trouble dealing with transitions. As a small child, she would tend to get grizzly when leaving a party or on the last day of summer camp or when loading the car to go home at the end of a vacation. Her life was full of enjoyable events, but she had difficulty leaving one to go to the next. Maybe we are all a little like my daughter’s child-self, having a dip in mood when good things come to an end (even if we are moving on to more good things).
So, where was I? I was here. I am still here. I am enjoying this moment writing, which is something that gives me great pleasure. It’s my passion, my vocation. Truth be told, I am writing these words in a bouncing jouncing moving car, not on Sunday, but a few days earlier in the week. Ron, Sudi, and I are right this minute, while I write these words for the first time (because I will later revise), approaching the Grapevine in SoCal, driving down for a family get-together. A long weekend with all my children by the ocean. Every summer we try to spend a few days together by the ocean. Something to time travel to in the past and in the future. A moment in time to enjoy when it’s here. Because the real live moment is only the present. The actual times I spend with all my children together are few these days, so I consciously try to be as fully present as possible in the moment of driving to SoCal, in the moment of being on the beach, in the moment of sharing a family dinner, and in the moment of packing up to head home.
Without knowing what transition we will face in a heartbeat, we must take full advantage of the living present, accept the gift of what it offers. One can only hope that those we love will be with us again and for times to come. But in the end there is no time but the present. Blink and we miss it. Hide the clocks and watches and turn the calendars to the wall. So much depends on now. We are together on the beach in the morning. We are together walking around the pond in the afternoon. We are together for dinner in the evening. We are together. And then we are dispersed, planning another time for the future, so we will have a new excellent present; all of it only for the time being, before we dissolve into memory, like all those who went before.