Emily, the young mother of Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ died in childbirth. She returned, in spirit, to relive just one day, her 12th birthday. Watching her family, moving with such familiarity, she muses painfully about the fragility of the moment. Wistfully she says “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every every minute?”
No, Emily, we don’t.
We live in a world of constant to-do’s, so we do – too much. We fill every moment and, at the end of the day, sometimes we can’t remember where the minutes went.
Well, they went to the grocery store, to work, to social media, and cleaning the closet. They went to anxiety, annoyance, and anger. Moments keep disappearing. The clock never slows. The calendar is relentless. We can’t control the speed or ultimate loss of minutes but we can try to savor what we can of them.
These days, reminders of time’s speeding train is evident in my growing grandboys, one who starts high school next year. Yikes! And how many minutes have passed since my only granddaughter was a sassy/smart little munchkin to the gorgeous grown woman version she is today — with a wedding to plan. Time waits for no man – or woman.
One of the most moving of my man Billy Joel’s songs (and I love ever one!) is “These are the Times to Remember.” I just have to hear a few words of it these days to cry a deluge.
This is the time to remember
Cause it will not last forever
These are the days
To hold on to
But we won’t
Although we’ll want to
This is the time
But time is gonna change.
Time changes many things. It changed me from a girl to a wife, a woman to a mother, and then a grandmother. Once upon a time, I met a kooky PR guy who changed my life when he became my husband, then completely reset it when I became his widow. No one gets to life’s mile markers unscathed. No one slides through time smoothly treading water the whole way. And few arrive at life’s double digits without wanting to do the whole thing over again — in slow motion (except the loss part).
“Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you can only spend it once.” Damn, really? The older I get, the more I remember my father’s pronouncement every mid-summer, ‘days are getting shorter’. And so they are, with more speed every year. Summer races by, skidding through fall to winters that seem shorter, too, before nearly non-existent springs. As long as I can remember my father also has had an irascible habit of crossing out each day on the calendar that day’s dinner was done. Not too weird, right? Well, I was shocked to find that one, always hilarious grandson does exactly the same thing. Of course, I find his habit of checking off the days on his Star Wars calendar adorable. But though the magic marker might be the same, the hand that holds it is very different and the days pass far quicker for a 93 year old than the boy who’ll be 7 next month.
I think so often of my husband, who left this world in a nanosecond, with no warning or goodbye. Yet, in my moments of light, I also remember a blessing he lightly dropped years ago, as we waited for friends to join us for dinner. A cancer veteran by that time, used to (can anyone ever be?) uncertainty, fear and treatments, he said that if it all ended for him the next day, he would be okay with it. My head snapped around as I looked with him with open mouthed shock. “Wait, what?” He calmly told me that he had already experienced a full life, had traveled, had enjoyed, explored and loved. The only thing he would miss enough to stay for was me, he said. Romantic, but not comforting. I would have definitely chosen another conversation from the menu that night, but looking back I hope, with all my heart, his words were true for him.
“ How would he have lived if he had known he had only eleven days left” ponders Sheryl Sandburg after her young husband died in a heartbeat. “If we could live going forward with the understanding of how precious every single day is”. True, that. On that fateful night, just a normal, any Wednesday, my sweet man had no idea that it would be his last. And I, leaving with a casual “I’ll be back soon, hon – love you”, had no idea my words to him would be my last.
Be here now. Seize the moment – all of them. There’s not a minute to waste.