Thursday, January 16, 2014

All Time and No Time

We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.
— The Stage Manager, Our Town by Thorton Wilder

I have a lot to do today. A lot to do in a confined stretch of time: people are waiting for things, I have deadlines, both real and inferred. Other people's impatience makes me anxious to the point of paralysis, which is obviously counterproductive. Time is the currency of my life: I measure it out not in coffee spoons but in billable hours.

We don't get a lot of time, here on earth. Eighty years, maybe — more if we're lucky, less if we're not. We hoard it and we count it down and we obsess over it by marking anniversaries of one kind or another. Do we mark anniversaries because we are afraid that we might otherwise forget?

Mom died eight years ago today. I went to Mass this morning and lit a candle, even though it's not as if I don't think of her every single day. She's gone, but she's not gone. She remains a constant presence in my life, and I still talk to her all the time, even if I never hear anything back. I am not sure what marking the anniversary does for me or for her. I just knew that I needed to do it.

Because my time continues, even if her time does not — and as I thought about that this morning, I finally understood that eternity is not a stretch of time longer than we can imagine. It is no time at all. No beginning, no end, therefore no need to count down or keep track the way humans do. It is whole and all-encompassing. And we, with our endless scorekeeping and time sheets, pay hardly any attention to that at all.

Maybe we can't. It's too distracting. What would happen to the earth if we were all Zen monks, renouncing physical needs and focused on eternity? Food would not be grown, houses would not get built, books would not get written or edited. We do those things because we need to and we like to. I like scrambled eggs and hand-tied rugs and novels. I am not ready for eternity, not yet. None of my clients are, either.

But I suspect (and hope) that Mom really loves it.

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