My mother once wrote that time meant nothing to her in the days she was happiest: young, in love, raising her babies, making crafts and painting pictures with us girls, keeping her hands always busy, busy, busy to keep her mind quiet. ”Time meant nothing,” I marvel, and I envy that freedom.
Lately, time seems to mean, to me, everything.
The timing of meeting a man who’s emotionally available, stable, mature, ready to commit, ready to leap and try and hope for the best and stay open to exploring the joys and hardships of a relationship together.
The timing of leaving my current job in search of a new one, a better one.
The timing of when I will move out of my sister’s house and into my own home again and unpack the boxes gathering dust in storage.
The timing of when I will finally sit myself down to write as I know I can and should write.
The timing of letting go; the timing of holding on.
The timing of changing my life.
Time. I see its meaning, its place, everywhere, in all things.
When I was home in Pennsylvania over Easter, I felt time ticking all around me. Probably because nothing shows the steady progression of days as clearly as family and children do.
My oldest nephew is now too big for me to pick up—he wants to play catch and soccer and run races and talk about Mario and Luigi. I remember when he wanted to join the adults for dinner so he could cheers glasses and listen to my sister recite grace and was content to sit and go through sticker books with me for hours. My younger nephew, the one who I rocked to sleep in my arms just a summer ago, is now pushing through the surly three-year-old phase and marching toward being a “big boy”: talking in full sentences, working on potty-training, readying for pre-school, and approaching that short spell of timid shyness a child feels because they realize they are actually a person in this massive, overwhelming blur of a world. All you want to do is soothe that child, tell him that he will be good and wonderful amid the madness, but you can’t. Because he won’t understand. Because it isn’t the right time for that talk yet.
Don’t get me started on my niece. She chases after her cousins with a new sturdiness, a mounting resolve to be a part of the rough and tumble rather than sit safely on the sidelines. Although she still lets me scoop her up and hold her tightly, although she still sits snugly within my arms and clings to the front of my shirt, although she still looks to me for reassurance and comfort, I can already see her fledgling wings growing, strengthening, and I know it will not be long before I let her go. Before she runs off with time, too.
And seeing my best friend 8 months pregnant, rubbing the hard, sweet swell of her belly, laughing and tearing with her sisters and her mother as we watched the present opening and the game playing and the cake-eating at her baby shower. At one point, I stood back, briefly, because I wanted to freeze the moment. Because she is about to embark on an entirely new and fantastic life as a mother, and I know it is only a matter of time before all this—our late-night phone calls, the spontaneous visits, the ridiculously long e-mails written mid-day, the drunken silliness, the visits where it’s just the two of us, the days of having her all to myself—is gone. Time giveth, and time taketh away.
The evening of Easter, my father and I sat outside on the back patio, drinking cold Chardonnay, skimming the Sunday New York Times, before settling back in our chairs and staring at the sky, puffy and bruised with clouds. We began to talk about me—where I’m “at,” how I’m doing, what’s going on. I held it together for awhile, until my voice snagged on the words, “I just…don’t know which way I should be headed.” My father laughed gently and told me that most people don’t know—most people just decide to go for it, choose to take some risks, and hope for the best.
“But, there’s no ‘right’ way,” he said. ”There’s no ‘right’ time. There’s just right now.”
How can time mean nothing when you see its effects rippling through everything?
How can time mean everything when all we truly have is the right now, the present, this very second and none other?
Yesterday, I received an e-mail I had not expected from someone I had largely given up on. This e-mail arrived on the heels of me folding the last of our tattered past into a drawer and wedging it almost closed. The “almost” is because, despite the hurt, of course my hopeful heart couldn’t give up. Because “there must be in the heart a faith so faithful that it returns even after it has been slain.” (Agnes Smedley said that in Daughter of Earth.)
Time has passed in weeks, months even, since I last heard from this person. A lot, somehow, has already happened and changed during that passage. I am not the person I was then; my heart is not the heart it was then. I appreciated the words in the e-mail. But, the timing of them felt off. Was it too late? Too soon?
Give me time. I’ll sort it out.
I have spent the last several days, ever since I read that line of my mother’s when I first arrived home to Stoneyway, thinking obsessively about which side of the coin I believe: Time means everything. Or, time means nothing. Or, perhaps, it just doesn’t matter?
Today, after returning from a whirlwind work trip to New York City, after throwing my bags on the floor, kicking off my heels, and grabbing my sneakers, I headed back out of the house for a run. Everything hurt: my head from last night’s wine, my body from all the travel I’ve undertaken in the last week, my legs from sitting cramped in cars, planes, and conference rooms, and even my heart, all because of that “almost.” I wanted to escape it all; I wanted to elude time for awhile. I ran until I reached the ocean.
And then I forced myself to slow to a walk. A very slow walk. And then, finally, no walk at all. I stood perfectly still, staring at the sea.
You look out at the ocean, and it’s hard to think of time in such black and white terms. The ocean is time. It is older than the land, and yet, there it still churns, hour after hour, bearing the tides anew.
I listened to the small waves roll into shore, again and again, no two the same, yet so wonderfully consistent and measured in their arrival. Despite the breeze, the sharp smell of seaweed and salt water hung heavy in the air. A group of children laughed and played on the sand down near the Lime Rickey’s stand and the swingsets. I let the minutes pass, watching the day wane across the water. I thought of how Grace and her father would be home by now, and I should go, and hurry, so that I could hug and kiss her goodnight.
I thought, suddenly, that time can’t mean everything. No one thing—even time—is every thing. But, time also can’t mean nothing. Not to me.
Perhaps, like the rest of life, time simply carries the weight we give it. Time just is—until we, individually, strap symbolism and purpose and blame and responsibility to its chest, until we beat time or praise time for what it brings us.
I took the jog back to the house leisurely. I wanted to savor the last of the day’s sunlight and the peaceful, wonderful calm of the early evening hour, when the shadows lean long and thin across the sidewalk and the lawns, when most cars are already in the driveway, and lights sparkle in the windows, and family dinner is underway, and mothers are upstairs putting their babies to bed. It is the hour I like best. Time in the suburbs has taught me this.
Time, they say, teaches us many things.
I, for one, am beginning to think that time, if we pay it heed, allows us a chance to learn the lessons we’re gathering along the way, through this life.
And that—that means something. Not everything. Not nothing. Something.
And that is enough for me.
p.s. I just discovered that this entry marks 600 posts on Hannah, Just Breathe! Talk about timing…