My brother and I were having a conversation about the incredulous realization that our father and mother have been gone thirteen and a half years and eight years, respectively. That so much time has gone by is just baffling. However, it seems like forever since I kissed my father’s cheek or spoke with my mother on the phone. How is it possible that time can morph and change course, stand still, yet engulf our lives while, at times, also seem to disappear altogether?
I grew up in a family where the concept of time completely enveloped our existence. While I cannot remember an alarm clock ever buzzing, anyone could have set their schedules to our household. I was never late to school once in my entire elementary, junior high, and high school career. Nor was I late to any of my college classes, but that was completely my doing, reflecting my own familial need to be on time. When I was younger our family's on-time arrivals would become almost embarrassing, as arriving too early to functions created its own brand of challenges. We were often at weddings while the photographer was just setting up. I assumed, rightfully, that the bride was still getting ready. We were often at funerals before the body arrived. We logged countless hours in cars waiting for a respectable time in which to arrive (again).
How often was my father sitting in the car in our garage waiting for my mother? In fact, at night, after returning home from work, my father would leave the driver's side door open with the keys in the ignition to save time the next morning as he drove off to work. His seconds-saving ritual worked famously until his car battery died due to the light being on all night long from the open door. Yet, he didn't stop this practice; he only detached the wire from the light switch so the battery wouldn’t die again. I assume this preparation saved him about ten seconds in the morning.
While I was still in elementary school, we would drive over 400 miles to Palm Springs for our family’s annual vacation. My mother would insist that I pack at least two weeks in advance. Traveling made her nervous; perhaps getting the clothes folded and in the luggage helped to calm her. As a result, I would be without much of my wardrobe for those fourteen days prior to our trip. I always wondered why my mother would then comment that I wore the same clothes every day to school. Today, such preparation before a trip reflects my adult rebellion, as I strategically wait until the last minute to fill my suitcase. The rush of adrenaline in knowing I am waiting to pack almost makes up for the anxiety of looking at all those zipped suitcases of my childhood. Yet, I have never missed a plane. It's just not in my DNA.
I have been on long flights where my concept of the hours transforms into something tolerable, a sense of time that would not feel survivable at home or at work. On the ground, fifteen hours is usually measured by waking up; getting ready for work; driving to my job; completing the 8-9-hour day; driving home; preparing and eating dinner; reading or watching television; and getting ready for bed. Far up in the air, the same hours have me breathing the piped in air-conditioning, sleeping, eating, reading, and watching semi-old movies and television shows, with time creating its own framework. In this setting, my internal clock is measured by visits to the bathroom, walking the aisles, eating food that I would often refuse, semi-sleeping, and observing others who have the ability to easily fall asleep almost instantly. Before I know it, the endless hours have passed and while not refreshed, I have survived a day in the air, something I can hardly imagine doing when I am on the ground.
I have waited in hospitals, both for joyful news of babies and sad news where unimaginable decisions have had to be made. I have camped out in those waiting rooms, with longer “stints” than on the plane flights. It becomes inconceivable to walk in and out of the hospital rooms whether in joy or sorrow for so many hours, yet I do it, with the element of time altered yet again. My desire to be with my family or friends in their times of need supersede everything else.
In everyday life, I am always so keenly aware of time, so much so that when I forget to wear my watch, I spend a large part of the day twisting my bare left wrist to check the time. Instead, I end up reading my tattoo and feeling ridiculous, wondering if anyone has witnessed my obsession with my arm. Yet, like hospitals, funerals are the same with regard to the strangeness of passing hours; they’re surreal, actually. In all of the funerals I have attended, I never seek the time—never look at my watch, for somehow this very act seems sacrilegious. Time doesn't matter anymore. Death seems to be the great equalizer for checking the hour of the day. While time is generally essential to the living, it doesn't matter when we are saying goodbye to those already gone. In fact, in grief, I want time to stop—I want the world to stop so I can get off its axis; yet, of course this never happens, and as we must, I keep going.
Regarding new life, I want time to stop, but for a different reason. As a grandmother for only a little over two and a half years, my days now have become even more precious, for when I am with my grandson and granddaughter, their schedules and their demands take precedent over my timing: meals, naps, play time. I joyously melt into their desires often just staring at their perfect beings. I can be completely with them in ways I was distracted as a parent. Grandparent time is far different than parent time. As a parent, so much more was required of me, pulling me away from just being present with my children; today, as a grandparent, the process of being is enough.
Having over six decades of life behind me also reminds me that, as my friend so eloquently reflects, "We are all on the clock." So, I do my best to make each minute count. No longer do I accept positions at work where I only look forward to my morning and afternoon cups of coffee, or where my time is punctuated by wasteful meetings that cover unimportant matters. When I am studying uninteresting material or involved in a mindless project, each minute feels like ten, reminding me to question the significance of such activities. Yet, when I am writing in my journals or reading an engaging book, before I know it, hours have zipped by.
Time becomes both my enemy and my friend, reminding me of how I must spend my days, especially as someone who has already reached the summit and is on her way back down the mountain. Today, time has become the alarm clock of my internal compass—a valuable element of my equilibrium, an integral litmus test of the joyful and appreciated moments that will punctuate the remainder of my journey.