PHOTO CREDIT: “Marwari Stallion #1” by Tom Chambers, http://www.tomchambersphoto.com
At this time of year when tradition dictates we consider resolutions for the future, I—everthe planner, the worrier, the what-if or could-be dreamer find myself staunchly resisting. While my toes grip the metaphorical sand, my knuckles clutch the all-too-real yellow counter in Nana’s kitchen, and the unscratched, shiny, dining room table, unable to look at the old photos or watch the tears stream down my uncle’s face as he tries to imagine losing his mother who has always been “his first and most constant ally.”
Time is going too fast and my only resolution is to somehow make it stop.
My need for a time-halting superpower isn’t altogether tied to my grandmother’s diagnosis of end stage pancreatic cancer. For a couple of summers now, I haven’t looked forward to sending the girls back to school, despite the frequent fights over the computer, the hairbrush, books, and, well…everything, along with the paradoxical, pressing lack of time to write, work, and exercise when they’re home.
Sometime over the last few years, a sick sense grew over me—like a hanging fog that creeps in over the mountains when your head is turned and settles in for a long winter—that my time with my daughters is ticking away. When they were babies, and nursing became a weight I couldn’t escape, I never could have imagined the crushing sense I’m already feeling of someone walking off with my heart four years from now when the oldest leaves for college.
It’s as if I’ve suddenly reached an age where time warps in fast forward, like some sci-fi movie I can’t control. At forty-two I thought I’d be too young for this feeling. But, the days and years spin by so fast I can’t remember half of them (above and beyond my general, lousy memory), and I feel I’ll get left behind.
Picking up a photo album at Nana’s, looking at a photo of her visit to my uncle’s cabin—suddenly I’m shocked by the lack of grey in his hair and beard…it’s dated 1996 (which still doesn’t sound that long ago), but it feels like yesterday. I remember seeing these photos immediately after the trip. Now, I look up at my uncle, and see his beard fully grey with more creeping through his hair, the way I’ve grown accustomed to seeing him. But, the time monster crawls under my skin to my eyes, and tears block my vision until I’m forced to put down the photos and retreat to the back room. Time is chasing all of us. And I don’t know how to make it stop.
My uncle’s partner tells me, “That’s why you need to enjoy each moment right now.” My head knows that’s the solution: to try to reach up and grab on to
something right in front of me, but sometimes the present seems to be rushing past me, no matter how hard I try to hold on.
I sound so old when I say these things. But, I guess it’s better to face the reality behind these clichés sooner than later: “Time goes so fast.” “Children grow up so quickly. Enjoy them while they’re young.” “Spend time with your loved ones while they’re around.”
Maybe it’s not age that makes us realize the truth behind these sayings. (For, what are clichés, but truths so often repeated that they become tired, tuned out phrases that no longer hold much meaning for us?) Instead, perhaps it’s what you go through to understand the meaning behind the words.
In a sick sounding sort of way, I always wished that I could have a sort of “near-death” type experience so that I could learn to live in the moment more and stop being so much of the anxious, planner, dreamer, what-if, kind of person I am. Perhaps, my time stopping crisis—brought to a head by Nana’s terminal illness—will help me learn how to better live in the present.
Since my last visit, my uncle talks of how the new morphine pump has leveled-out the roller-coaster of “discomfort”—as Nana calls it—and they have reached a sort of timeless state there in the house where days and nights gel together. Where naps are long, but moments of matched laughter reflect in their eyes, as he sits on the corner of her bed. Occasionally, Nana even, uncharacteristically, reaches for his hand, holding it for a long while. When she’s less tired, they sit at that kitchen table, and she pores through the thick, old photo albums she’s made—caretaker of the family memories—complete with captions of names, dates, places, and other facts, like minute details of dinner orders, which I’ve, admittedly, mocked over the years. When I was there, she worried about what would happen to the albums after she was gone, the photos she hadn’t had time to put under protective plastic coating—her legacy to us all. Now, she tells my uncle she’s at peace and ready to go.
I call and ask my uncle if there’s anything else I can do for him. He tells me, “Hey, I know you guys are super busy. But make some time to curl up on the couch for awhile, and hug everybody extra tight tonight.” Again, I try, but somehow I feel them squirming out of my grasp.
For now I’ll resolve to stop time in the only way I know how: to preserve this moment in words.