“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
– Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky
It seems like we are always looking forward to something. Small kids want to be big kids, big kids want to be teenagers, teenagers want to be adults, adults dream about retirement, etc…
A few times in my life it has hit me that I don’t necessarily want time to keep marching forward. One time was on the occasion of my 22nd birthday. Twenty-one was a very fun age to be, the height of youth and vigor with the realization that the world is full of unfolding possibilities. When I turned 22 I felt the loss of something that could never be replaced. Each of us who live that long gets 1 shot at being 21, and no amount of will or wishful thinking can stop time from moving forward.
More recently I felt this same sense of loss coming on when my youngest son turned 12. This is his last year before becoming a teenager, and I am hanging on to the notion that he might occasionally still prefer to spend some time with me over his other options. At the same time I realize that both boys (Jake is now 14) are becoming increasingly independent, and we only have a handful of years left to set\influence the agenda.
The point about not knowing when we will die expressed in the Sheltering Sky quote is certainly true. I am operating on the assumption that I still have 3, 4 or maybe even 5 more decades or so to my life, but acknowledge that misfortune can hit anyone, anywhere at anytime. One certainty is that each of our times will come, and although we have some influence as to the quality and length of life we will have, there are factors well beyond our control that might have their own way.
I think the best way through is to not live in fear of the ending, but rather to accept it and live life in such a way as to make the most of now. In the end this is all that we can be certain about.
I often think about life as one long baton race. A large part of the early years are spent getting ready for the race, then before you know it you are in the race and driving hard to get somewhere (although in reality we are for the most part running in circles), and then you are doing what you can to pass the baton to those who will carry it forward to the future. The transitions in this race are not entirely clear, but what is true is that humanities progress is multi-generational. Before we know it our run around the track will come to an end and others waiting for their chance will take our place
Ann Lamont’s expression, “100 years from now? All new people”, reminds us that we shouldn’t take ourselves, our troubles or achievements too seriously. Our best efforts can make a difference to those around us today, but ultimately 100 years from now the meaningfulness of our existence will best be measured by the batons we pass through to the next generations. Have we made the world a kinder and/or more compassionate place through our actions? Have we passed down values and stories that will help people make sense of worlds we will never see?
Circumstances change, and with it people and society. However most of the plots have already been written and in all likellihood will stay the same; tragedy, hope, fear, jealousy, lust, achievement, pride, joy, peace, love and understanding (what is so funny about it for all you Elvis Costello fans), competition, redemption, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I recently discovered and read a journal kept by a relative from an earlier generation. She was writing about people many of whom I never met but have heard about over the years in family lore. Reading her words was almost like sitting around a table and having a cup of coffee with all whom she wrote about. The entries in the journal told of what was going on in their lives at the time and what they thought about them. They all carried and cared for the baton very well, and passed it on to the next generation.
Maybe someday someone I will never meet will read this writing. If they are, I just want to say, “Hey there! How are you doing? I hope you are having fun!!! (read pg. 324 for some dirt on your parents or grandparents) I love you!!! Best Wishes!!!” – John
In the meantime, like many of us I am trying the best I can to make sense of things, and take advantage of this wonderful opportunity called life. The odds of any of us being here are too large to contemplate, and before we know it we will vanish back into whence we came. Best of luck to all of you in your journey and remember to stop and look around from time to time… there just might be something going on that you won’t want to miss.