It is impossible to stop the flow of time. You and I know this. Still we, or maybe I should just speak for myself, I find it hard not to want time to slow down. There are times I wish I could stop it altogether. Maybe even go back.
A young Mother looks at her two year old and secretly entertains the thought. “Please don’t grow up. Don’t change. You’re perfect just the way you are.” But it cannot happen. A Father watches his son drive off to college and realizes that life has changed and will never be the same as it once was.
I told my buddy, Cory, that it was coming. “I know”, he said. But I knew he didn’t really know. I knew because my wife and I had been where he and his wife are at right now. The youngest of three just moved off to college. They loaded the car and drove for hours last weekend. They helped her set up house in a room about the size of a postage stamp. I’m guessing they made a run to the store for things. All college kids need stuff. Mamas worry about whether or not they have everything they’ll need. It’s their job to worry.
A couple days later, the oldest daughter left for school. She’s done with 4 years but is going back for more. Then, yesterday, the middle one left. He was packing up bags and boxes from his room downstairs getting ready for the trip. He has been gone before, so he is experienced. He asks for help, but he’d rather be on his own.
Dad goes downstairs to help him lug up the last of the boxes. It was then that it hit him. Three noisy bedrooms were not so noisy anymore. “I don’t know why I did it”, he said. “I walked down the hall to the girls’ bedrooms.” The beds were made. The clutter was gone. Even the counter in the bathroom was clean. Five hairbrushes and endless bottles and tubes of stuff that girls use, and all the plug in gadgets that girls need to make themselves gorgeous. It was all gone. “It kinda caught me off guard”, he said.
I know. I remember when our oldest left home, it was hard not to set five plates at the table. It took me weeks to get it right. We only needed four. Eventually, it gets down to two plates. Another stage of life sneaks up on you and you adjust. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. The way it has always been.
Mom and Dad are shopping at the grocery store. She grabs two boxes of Frosted Mini Wheats and puts them in the buggy.
He looks surprised. “Why are you getting those?”
“They’re Timmy’s favorite. I always buy Frosted Mini Wheats for him.”
“We moved Tim off to school last Saturday, Honey. He’s not here.” And Mommy has a moment right there in the middle of the cereal aisle at the Piggly Wiggly. It’s not pretty. A grown woman sobbing over a box of cereal.
“Well,” she says. “I’ll just box them up and send them to him.”
The uncontrollable sense of time slipping away comes in all different forms. Putting your kids on the school bus for the first time, or sending them off into the world are just a couple of them. When you get older, you watch your relationship with your parents change. Time is not a respecter of anything or anyone we cherish.
I’ll never forget how my Dad struggled to do the right thing for my Mom after the dementia took her from him. We talked about the options. He rubbed his hands and looked out into nothing. His blue eyes were moist. “What do you think I should do?”, he asked. I wasn’t prepared to offer advice to the man I had looked to for advice my whole life. Time had changed us both.
I think what I regret most is the fact that I didn’t take it all in. I didn’t fully appreciate the time I grew up in until now. Some of the things I despised then have turned out to be the very things I value most. I grew up on the trailing edge of a generation that, I believe, knew more about work, and faith, and independence, and self-sufficiency, and hardship, and simple pleasures than I’ll ever know.
The one thing that the passing of time teaches us is that we should make the most of every day we live. It’s romantic to say that. Near impossible to keep focused long enough to do it. But still true. Trouble is that life comes at you so fast and so hard that most of us are concentrating on surviving the moments not cherishing them. If you’ve got two or three, or God forbid four or five kids counting on you for supper and a clean pair of jeans, the good days are the ones you get through with everyone still alive.
When you’re a kid, you don’t see things that way. When you’re an exhausted adult who has kids, you start counting the years until they all move out so you can get your life back. Time can’t move fast enough. Then that day comes. They leave. You do silly things like leaving the porch light on or thinking one of them could help you get that heavy box down out of the attic after supper.
There is a difficult balance in holding on to the past and letting it go gracefully. You can always hold on to the memories, but you cannot always hold on to the people and places of your life. You have to let your kids go. They won’t make it unless you do. You know that deep down, but it’s not easy.
You also have to let go of things. The place where I grew up is about to be gone from my grip. I love that place. There will never be another home for me on this earth like it. The house, the fields, the pond, the garden, the barn, the old well and smokehouse. But time has changed them all. None of these things are now as they were. There is a sadness to the way time has changed them. Broken. Fallen. Some of it nearly unrecognizable. The only place those things live as they were is in my mind.
It’s different with the memories of our kids. A two year old running and giggling as I chase her. A little boy sitting in my lap driving. Time has changed them, too. Sometimes broken. Sometimes fallen. Almost unrecognizable as they once were. But at the same time better and more incredible than I could have ever seen before now. Time has given us a life that is rich and full of wonder.
One day I’ll write a story, maybe. About a young boy that grew up on a farm in a family where farming was slowly passing away. He thought he had all the time in the world. That time would stand still. That life would always be the same. He longed to grow up and be in charge of his own life, not realizing that no one is ever really in charge of their life. That we all go where life takes us. Like a raft on a river.
I am a long way down stream now. God willing, there are plenty more bends in the river ahead. Some smooth water. Some rough shoals, I expect. But I am here for the ride. I look forward to a few more picnics. Grandkids graduating from high school. Making music on the front porch. Maybe a reunion with all the cousins. Christmas lunches. Another wedding or two. Long rides down familiar roads. Holding hands with the love of my life. The smell of a good campfire. The sound of an ice cream churn.
I just hope I have time to get it all in. I hope I have no time for regrets.