When your mind is filled with information, worry, and emotion, it’s easy to get to the end of the day and feel the time just evaporated behind you.
As you get older you begin to feel the same way about weeks, months and years.
I remember as if it were yesterday, the time I stood on top of the tower at Delos and pulled up twenty feet of OD green braid rappel rope, preparing for my first ever slack jump. I was trying to impress a SEAL. Every fiber of my being screamed at me not to do it, but at 19 I was immortal…immune to thoughts of death (and common sense).
I landed hard that day, but being 19, I walked it off. Young ankles and hips tolerate so much more than 50 year old ankles and hips…especially when those 50 year old ankles and hips used to belong to a 19 year old like me.
I can stretch that moment out in my mind for hours now, as I’m doing while writing this post. I remember my heart beating in my ears, the feel of the green braid, fresh out of its box and aching to be broken in. I remember the tips of my boots just protruding over the metal edge of the tower, looking down the sixty feet and getting a smile from Ranger Con Compton before he nodded. I remember the sensation of falling…a twenty foot freefall and the sharp tug at my engineer glove as the remaining 20 feet zipped through. (Green braid has a 30% stretch ratio so you have to guesstimate the braking distance once you’re falling–as opposed to gold braid which has about a 5 or 10% stretch ratio to it…I found that out the hard way.)
I remember the SEAL (Carr) chest bumping me when I got to the ground. That, I guess, was the only initiation required to be one of the boys.
The whole thing couldn’t have lasted more than a minute or two, but in my mind, it was a day’s worth of detail, rich, vibrant, and full of nostalgia for a youth I somehow lost along the way.
Things have been different the last few years for me and Gretel. Things started getting harder before we knew why, but that didn’t stop the worry and emotion from coming in. And though moments in the hospital, in treatments, in recovery, and in caregiving, seemed to drag in excruciating agony, those moments have also now flown by. It’s been more than a year since the diagnosis…and a year more since things started falling apart.
Moments of worry fill my mind but I don’t remember them…only the feeling.
I sat outside a few days ago, pondering in my ponderous way, and noticed the shadow from the roof-line falling over the cedar siding. The rough, weather worn planks had fairly fresh stain on them, and the ridges of the grain create a fabulous texture, intricate and rugged. The sun fell at such an angle that the ridges of grain cast long knobby shadows.
I watched them for a few seconds before realizing I was able to see the movement of the shadow across the boards. At that time of day, movement of shadow cast from above would normally be difficult to detect, but because it was a vertical plane, it was like watching the long shadows move near sunset.
I sat and watched for what felt like hours as the ridges produced wave after wave of shadow, spilling down each plank until it reached the ground. The sun baked the top of my head and I had a flash of my moment on the rappel tower. That’s what made me think of it…the heat on top of my head. I savored the memory. I turned it over and over, examining the memory from different angles as the shadow moved slowly down the wall.
By the time the shadow reached the ground, I was in full nostalgia mode, ready to listen to my music from that time period. It wasn’t until the shadow was creeping toward my feet that I stood and went inside, only to discover I had been in that state of semi hypnosis for only about 30 minutes.
That distortion of time, that reliving of a few moments, stretched out into a day of recollection, compressed into the few minutes it takes a shadow to traverse the length of five cedar boards. To have that memory linger in my mind even days later, pushing me to write a post about it, showed me that the escape of time through our lives only seems fleeting when we don’t fully experience it.
I’ve taken that lesson to heart. Each moment I’ve had with my Gretel since has been spent absorbing detail. Each word I chose to speak was thoughtful, not in passing. Each touch was genuine and the underlying emotion explored, even dissected after it had passed. I’ve lived the past seven days experiencing each second in a way I have only ever before done in rare, passing, milestone moments.
And I didn’t look back at this past week and wonder where the time went. I knew each moment. Some I’ve already forgotten, but many many more are locked in my mind.
I’m ready for what comes next. Not because I don’t fear what’s there, but because turning away and running from the emotion of the moment, running away from the fear of what might be, or when it might happen, or how I will deal with it, robs me of all the rich seconds that normally slip away, forgotten, leaving me wondering what happened to the day, or the week, or the year.
Each agonizingly beautiful moment, whether joyful, painful, or just comfortable, needs to be lived. And if in the time it takes a shadow to move across a few cedar planks I can relive a day’s worth of memory, involving only a few moments of time, then I can stretch my life out for centuries…if only I choose to live it. And I do.
Live your seconds. Relish them for hours. Don’t forget your years.