Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Road Goes Ever On and On...

Looking at the calendar reminds you of a number of things, not the least of which is the time you have before you, and the time that you have spent. And in a sense, the aphorism is true...time is money. Or it is like money, in that it can be invested or wasted, or simply spent. Invested, time yields benefits later on. Wasted, it falls into that yawning chasm of "could have, would have, should have" that plagues most of us in the quiet dark hours. Simply spent, and time serves as the canvas of a series of fleeting experiences that, in all honesty, we won't remember.

I vaguely recall, as a teen-ager, that we promised ourselves that we would "never forget" this or that person, or moment, or experience. Now 25 years in the future, and I find myself forgetting the names of fellow students, experiences I was supposed to have had, places I saw. At this point, the only things that seem clearest to me are those memories formed from the most painful experiences. And as much as I would like to flatter myself with the idea that I learned from these experiences, that they helped me grow into the man I am, I find that I only remember the pain, and the shame and embarrassment that go along with it, and I do my best to quickly stifle any more memories.

Looking at the calendar ahead of me, and aware of the time that remains there for me, I am struck by how little it seems now. My oldest will graduate high school this year. My youngest is walking and talking. My wife and I have grey hair and wrinkles and aches and pains. I have to slide my glasses onto the tip of my nose to read anything anymore. The unexpected upside? It mortifies my oldest daughter when I do it in her presence in public. (That is one thing I am glad to have left behind, that hyper sensitivity to the image that is presented to the world around me.) Now the calendar looks smaller, and the days look shorter.

But what to do? Horace coined the over-used and too little understood phrase carpe diem, "seize the  day" (which, by the way, is part of a poem dedicated to convincing a girl to sleep with him, because we never know if we will see tomorrow. You think Andrew Marvell is the first guy to use poetry to get girls to give it up?). Seizing the day, day in and day out, can be wearying. In Horace's case, he wrote more often about enjoying wine and poetry than he did about scamming girls. He observed daily life and wrote about it, and didn't seem to spend his time set on "carpe diem" mode.

That is if we think that carpe diem is to be understood as going out and doing big things. Enjoying a sunset. Taking a run. Reading a book with a glass of pinot next to you. Deriving pleasure from pleasurable things, can that be what it is to follow the dictum carpe diem?

Of course, if we return to the idea of "investing" time, there does seem to be little profit found in these small moments. While I often had ambitions of greatness when I was younger, reality slapped me in the face pretty quick, to the point that I would like to be up to the task of daily life. But I would like to look at my year and think that I had made judicious use of the time at hand. "I have wasted time, now time doth waste me", says Richard II through William Shakespeare. The idea of investing time is, to me, the idea that I will emerge better, wiser perhaps, with something to show for my efforts.

 So I look at the calendar at the start of the year, and I wonder, where will it all end up, when we come to another December 31st? Will it be a wasted year? Will it be a year "well-spent"? As I make my plans, I look forward to a year where I might emerge more confident and on a firmer footing, where I can believe truly that I did all that I could, and fulfilled God's will for me. I don't think there is much more that we can hope for.

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