Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Even Such Is Time"

Even Such Is Time 
Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust,
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days,
And from which earth, and grave, and dust
The Lord will raise me up, I trust.
~ Sir Walter Raleigh

This was one of the first poems I ever memorized. I have long been enamored with the idea of time and the changing of seasons. Speaking of which, did you notice that fall has come? I am always amazed when someone has a favorite season other than this one. Well, I suppose summer sounds better with its vacations and especially if you’re a kid returning to school! In New England where I live, autumn is an easy time of year to appreciate as the colors are so glorious. “But”, you say, “Methinks it was just winter as fresh be the remembrance of an eternity of snow!” And so time moves swiftly, its seconds strutting proudly around the clock, ending peaceful mornings, settling whole childhoods as dust collects on a scrapbook. Time, as we know it, on this furious sphere, remains the same for all passengers, young or old, past or present. We moderns simply record it more eagerly and pretend not to be unduly influenced by it. Indulge me as I mark the quick passage of 20 years and consider how one man has “wandered all his ways”.

[1990] A recent seminary graduate, I am the father of beautiful Abigail and am preparing to serve as the pastor of a new church in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

[1993] In Idyllwild, California. Now expecting baby #3, I work as a security guard and as a case worker in a treatment home for adolescent males.

[1996] Along with my wife of 12 years and four children, I am a pastor of a church in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

[2000] I am sitting in Saudi Arabia where I work as an educator for the Saudi Navy. Fall isn’t quite the same here. Convenient markers consist of cool or cooler still. Rare is the rain. Palm trees and desert terrain refuse to blush brilliant orange. Now understand, I love the desert and the expected reprieve from sun and humidity in October is much appreciated. Here in the desert kingdom, my girls (with silent Graham in tow) are dirty-footed, bug-finding, kitten-saving, sand-dwellers who love their childhood adventuring!  The hummus and pita bread and olives from Saray's Lebanese restaurant, or a day spent with friends at the Aramco Oil Company compound where we might indulge in Indian curry and dhal and later swim in a pool designed by American engineers are real pleasures. We are most content coming or going, most alive traveling from here to there, happiest in transit.

[2001] We relocated to the Berkshires in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Can you imagine the beauty?! 9/11 tragically descends and shakes us all. The flight path of each plane from Boston literally went over our heads before jerking monstrously south… I am the new interim minister at a local church. The kids are home schooled (which means that they love school!). I read much of the Civil War masterpiece by Shelby Foote. I am in heaven.

[2003] Kingston, Massachusetts. I serve as the interim minister of a protestant church. Abraham arrives! Oldest daughter Abby had been earlier stunned to learn that mom could even get pregnant! Now, my girls take turns feeding him, holding him, changing his diaper. Graham is initially disappointed as he imagined a fully formed play mate.

[2006] Aix-en-Provence, France. While serving as a minister in one of the most beautiful places on earth, we hear the announcement that cancer threatens the life of our beloved middle child, our hub-kid, our Star. She fights it, we hang on to hope. We know that surely, this child is blessed. She cannot die.

[2008] Now relocated to Quincy, Massachusetts, and deeply under-employed, we enter the Rabbit Hole. Esther is treated aggressively at Children’s Hospital in Boston. Angie enters her junior year in high school. We all struggle daily but begin to master the paradox of living in the moment while consciously storing memories away for the future.

[2009] Still in Quincy, I turn 50 and begin work as a Humanities instructor in a local community college. I love it! I also start working as a protestant chaplain for a social services organization. I basically work helping broken people get better. Our motto, “There are no limits to caring.” However, I cannot help my daughter and she has many close calls. More than once, we say goodbye to her. I have never been as vulnerable. I have never loved like this. Esther's illness is brutal. She is stronger still.

[2010] Esther has recently left us and “The presence of [that] absence is everywhere” (St Vincent Millay). We live a fog-life, stumbling, bumbling. People attempt to comfort us. We are disconsolate. We get the boys to school, brush our teeth, walk the dog. Our faith is changed. We are shattered and empty, but somehow, through the mist, perceive a growing wholeness. I remain reverent, hopeful and continue to look for full time work as we now have more than a decade of financial anemia to atone for.

As fall, 2011 begins, I find myself longing to live a more generous life, giving away not just time, hope and encouragement, but material things, too, like money and gifts. I plan to mark the onset of any future autumn by asking, “In the past year, how present was I and how much did I give away, investing in others?” I resolve to be available for my family, grandkids and for all those for whom I may have a responsibility including any strangers that chronos and chance might have decided to deposit at my doorstep.

When I was a kid, my Grandfather Larrett made sure that we never left a visit to his house without a gift, usually a coin, typically a half dollar. Mostly, though, I remember how much I enjoyed being with him and anything he gave me was simply a symbol of that affection. Time, itself, is a symbol of deeper mysteries, each minute a signpost to something Other. Let me suggest that any spending of time be done carefully, thoughtfully. When, alas! The “story of our days” is shuttered, may it be for us that something tangible was left behind, something that let the recipient of our generosity know that we were here, that we cared specifically for them. Bless them, yes, but be mindful to send them away with something to warm their belly, as well. The coin may be spent, perhaps forgotten, but the love will endure, for the heart has no season.
"Not all who wander are lost." ~Tolkien

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