Saturday, January 1, 2011
It is December 5th, the day of my sister's baby shower. In February she will have a boy and his name will be Asher. The tables are stacked with baby toys and the steps in the fellowship hall cascade with pastel wrapping paper. I watch my sister, round and smiling, unwind yard after yard of tissue. She is nearly 25 years old, but to my eyes she is no more than 5 with an adorable Dorothy Hamill hair cut. It was impossible to me that she should ever be old enough to go to the homecoming dance, drive a car or get married. It seems even more impossible that she will soon be a mother. I'm only 22 months her elder, but at that moment I am eating almond cake and feeling close to 100.
There is so much joy and estrogen chattering in the room. I am chatty and happy too, despite the bags under my eyes. Several people ask me if I am feeling well. I know I must look rotten. I am sleep deprived and fighting a pensive, sentimental disposition. Yes, I am happy. But I'm also somehow sad. I can't help but remember that December 5th was the due date for one of my babies.
Our van packed up and our tummies full, Vivian and I strap ourselves in for the 3 hour drive to our home. It is late afternoon. As we drive toward the sun it dips lower and lower toward the earth, glowing like an amber pearl. Though it is dimming, it is piercing. Blinding almost.
In her car seat, Vivian is a thoughtful portrait. She silently watches trees and clouds blur together through her tinted sun shade. Her legs are now long enough to kick the seat in front of her which she does almost rhythmically. She asks me a question. I answer; somehow surprised to hear us conversing like two individuals. When she was no bigger than a basketball I used to dream of the day when she'd be old enough to laugh and sing with me on these trips down the highway. Time crawled then. I wanted to run.
I look at her now, a long haired beauty behind me and want to press pause, to freeze her just as she is: plump, wide eyed, slurring her sentences with peanut butter stains on her chin. I want to preserve her, this little piece of perfection, knowing hopelessly that tomorrow she will have changed just a little and the next day a little more until one day she will be a round, smiling woman opening packages wrapped in pastel paper.
I think of other little changes. Of the wrinkles spreading on my parents' faces. Of my childhood best friend, also about to have her first baby. I think about college. I wonder where my wedding pearls are now. In a pawn shop? On a woman's neck? I try to remember how Uganda smells and the exact tone of Kamara's giggle. I think about the babies I've lost, and how different life might have look now if I hadn't.
We keep driving. If I drive fast enough would it be possible to outrun it? Could we press westward so faithfully that we would actually move against time, always going backwards, making it so that the sun would never set on us?
As a girl I was always occupied with the idea of time. In middle school I would sit very still on the end of my bed and hold my breath. I realized that while I had the power to say and do many things, I could do nothing to time. It was an untouchable governor, ticking and tocking, evenly, faithfully. It wouldn't be bribed or budged for anyone. Even while I was sitting perfectly still, it was moving. While some people might dream of heaven with anticipation or relief, for me it was riddled with terror. I couldn't conceive of eternity, of going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on…. A world without end. No stop. No close. No death. I wondered if I was the only one secretly frightened by this.
Our lives are so distinctly defined by time. Most of us are either wishing it would move faster, or praying it would slow down. Maybe we're not thinking about it at all.
Dwelling on the immovability of time as I used to do could make my chest tighten in a panic. Still there was a strange comfort in it. Though time can feel like a smothering, constricting ruler, it's mastery is also a relief. Because it is all we have ever known, time, less a prison and more a womb, is as natural and necessary as breathing. Moving toward a conclusion can be calming, satisfying even because it is so certain. We can all be assured of death.
Each of our lives are unfolding continually. The story being played out with its highs and lows. Although we cannot change the fact that time marches us forward, we are never it's victims. Time is there for us to live in. For us to use.
Two weeks ago I walked out of the kitchen to see Scott and Vivian dancing together in the living room. Nearly three years earlier I had found them in the same spot, Vivian wrapped in a hospital receiving blanket, and Scott wearing the proudest expression. She was no bigger than a basketball. He swirled and twirled her around the room with style. Now she twirls herself, clutching onto his finger the way she has seen a princess do. I pause and imagine them years from now dancing this way when she is as tall as me and hopefully more graceful.
I reach for the moment, but it is like raking my hand through a cloud. We have these treasures when we are inside of them. No picture or video will ever recover them, not as they really were. It will only be a shadow. A memory. Something to reflect upon as we continue to be carried along by time.
But my looking ahead is also a vapor. All speculation. All mystery. It is like waiting to exhale. And holding your breath this way denies your body what it needs to really live.
2010 has left me tender and hurt the way a wrestling match would. But I find that I am sorest not because of what occurred in the space of those 12 months; I ache most because of who I was…or wasn't in light of those moments. I spent too much of 2010 gazing backward, dwelling on what was and regretting what couldn't be altered. And I worried too much about a future that never materialized as I imagined. I did too much coasting. Too much waiting. Too much biding time instead of abiding in it. I spent too much energy consuming everything that was while waiting too passively for the next thing that I thought would make me happy.
Learning from the past, treasuring what it gave us and savoring it does bring a richness and depth to our lives. Dreaming and setting goals for the future can be fruitful as well, but these things are hopes that cannot be bought or insured by our own wishing. If we are always looking back or forward we cannot fully be where we are. And where we are now, who we are and what we are able to accomplish, learn, change, and love is our responsibility. What I have now is the time I have been given. I want to spend that time fully and fruitfully. Fully living each moment, being in it with all my heart, using it wisely and well. "Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." Eph. 5:16
Today I am no longer afraid of heaven. I am intimidated by eternity, yes. I am uncertain of what it evens means to exist without a conclusion. But I was designed to live inside of time and as long as I inhabit it I can know nothing else. I live, trusting that once I am brought outside of its boundaries I will need no more explanation.
Psalm 90 (my favorite psalm)
1Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3You return man to dust
and say, "Return, O children of man!"
4For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
7For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
14Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!