“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.”
That quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne always has evoked sadness for me. Time flies by too fast, leaving only fleeting shadows of our past.
Lately, though, it seems time isn’t passing quite fast enough for some folks. I paused from writing this to listen to my daughter complain, for a good 15 minutes, about how bored she is, and how slowly pandemic time passes.
Of course, time just keeps ticking away at the same pace, whether we’re panicked or bored. And, in hindsight, no matter how laborious time feels in the present, it always seems to have flown by in the past, leaving behind only elusive shadows of what we’d planned to do with that time.
In thinking about our current circumstances, when many people have more time on their hands than they’d like, I keep coming back to that Hawthorne quote, and to a conversation I had last year with a friend in a nursing home.
If you want to fully appreciate the truth behind Hawthorne’s quote, there are few places for better study than your nearest nursing home. The shadow of time hangs heavy there, among those who live for the opportunity to share with someone — anyone — the glories, loves, losses and regrets of days past.
That’s not a new revelation for anyone who’s spent much time around an elderly relative, or who has faced their own mortality. Facing the limits of our mortal lives, it’s natural to want to cling to what we’ve done, and far too often, what we wish we had done.
But, I could tell on this one particular visit my friend’s memory loss had taken a turn for the worse.
As I shook his hand, I could see he was searching to place me. I was in there somewhere, but he couldn’t quite find me. It’s a frequently-received look when you spend much time in a nursing home.
“My name is James,” I told him gently. “We pray together and I bring you Communion. Do you mind if I sit with you?”
He agreed, but I could tell he was still unsettled by not being able to place me. I sat quietly for a minute or two, letting him set the pace. Sometimes silence is the best prayer.
He nursed a cup of coffee. Then, he offered one of those profound nuggets with which I’m often rewarded on these visits.
“We have nothing but time, here,” he said. “But, we don’t have a lot of time.”
He wasn’t sad in saying it. Just matter-of-fact. Time is fleeting. And we have too little of it. In a place where acquaintances and friends regularly depart feet-first, he had no need to embellish on the urgency of mortality. But it wasn’t a morose reminder. He was simply stating a fact.
Time will pass away for us all. No matter how bored we may be, no matter how slowly we feel pandemic time passing, it still is passing, and eventually — if we believe Hawthorne — all that will be left is the shadow of what we did with this time.
We can see that as a sad truth. Or, we can see this time as an opportunity to live in ways we’ll be proud to look back on.
I see so many of you choosing the latter.
People are making surgical masks at their kitchen tables for doctors and first responders. Educators, pastors, poets, musicians and artists are flooding the internet with free content, teaching everything from theology and geometry to how to make a first-rate peach cobbler.
Volunteers are signing up in unprecedented numbers to fetch groceries and essentials for their neighbors in need.
Children are turning their driveways and curbs into beautiful and inspiring messages for their teachers, their neighbors and for this world we all share.
From balcony concerts in Italy, to free online performances, to plans for an art cruise here in Enid, people are living this time in displays of creativity, selflessness and willful connection seldom seen in our society.
These tiny lights of love and beauty cannot be hidden in the present darkness, and they will leave more than shadows when this is all over.
This time is yours, in the present, to use — for good or bad, in apathy or intentionality, to add to darkness or light. We can’t change the past. The future doesn’t exist. All we have is now. Each moment is a gift — an opportunity to pour love, light and grace into this world.
Thank to all of you using this time to uplift and inspire your neighbors. Please, keep it up.
Keep casting light into the gloom, and let’s all begin to see where that light may lead us after this pandemic.