Monday, March 05, 2007

The meter is running

Numbers boggle me. The how many and how much: the number of grains of sand on the shore or stars in the sky, miles to the sun, speed of light, dollars of national debt, victims of genocide, heartbeats in the span of a life. The scale of things: the large (as of August 12, 2006, Voyager 1 was over 9.3 billion miles from the Sun) and the small (Planck’s length: a millionth of a billionth of a centimeter). I can no more wrap my tiny mind around these things than an agnostic can the Godhead. Not that I’ve figured that out either. On some things you let others do the math and simply stand there with mouth (and mind and heart) agape.

We had family in from England this week and as we cooed over the 2 year and 4 month old children of Wayne’s cousins, who just a minute ago were doing the same over ours, I was again taken aback by the speed of time and a great yearning to roll back the clock. Despite the mindblowing discoveries of quantum physics and its time/space paradoxes which might have you assuming such a possibility might exist, time moves in only one direction. Onward. The cream will not unpour from the coffee. The days of our toddlers toddling are over. Apart from checking out a DVD someday from St. Peter’s library and watching a replay of those days of our lives, all that is left of them is what my miserly memory deigns to ration out. Which is, maddeningly, not much. And certainly not enough.

So I find myself anxious about what is fleeting by all too fast and mourning the passing of events almost before they’ve dawned. A bit of a quandary when you are attempting to savor the moments of your life. I think that is the sadness that dogs our heels as soon as we are out of adolescence, if not before. The perpetual relinquishment: everything heading toward its end even as it arrives. Nothing sits still. And always the regret that you didn’t quite milk the occasion for all it was worth while you still could. As if that were possible.

We had a long awaited family visit this week but so much work to do that we barely spent time with guests who most likely will not be able to make it back for quite a long time. Time together was pushed to late nights and the weekend by the obligations of our continually overloaded schedule. We hosted a small, impromptu gathering of friends in their honor on Thursday evening and by late Thursday night I had the beginnings of a sore throat which bloomed ferociously by Friday morning. I dragged myself through the last couple of days we had with them, trying to keep my head from exploding. And now they are gone.

The idea in moving to a rural area was to tamp down our place in the rat race a few notches. So far it has not panned out; if anything we’re busier than ever. I learn what my friends are up to electronically—via their email, blogs, photos uploaded to websites. Who has time for a phone call, much less a visit? It’s a far cry from days I didn’t know were soon to be extinct—when women had time to hang out with each other and their kids. I’m sure there were days when my stay at home mom (SAHM) was stressed and busy (in which vacuuming inevitably played a part but whether it was the chicken or the egg is as yet undetermined) but what I remember is coming home from school and flopping down in a kitchen chair eager for the neighbor ladies to mosey over, once their own children had been greeted and turned loose to play outside, for their daily round of coffee, cigarettes, refills, gossip and giggles.

There was usually a table full, haloed by hazy smoke and affection that expanded until the last chuckle, when they had to go get supper on. Each day I wanted to prolong the minutes before they carried their cups to the sink and slid their lighters back into the cellophane wrappers of their cigarette packs, wanted to sit there forever listening to their stories, to Betty’s jokes in her Georgia drawl and Jan’s scandalous escapades, to watch Ruth’s eyes crinkle when she laughed, to remain in the happy fog of those fond and familiar fixtures of my adolescence. They each knew the others’ kids, our skinned knees, our first dates, our fevers and broken bones. There was an ease and fullness about their interactions that doesn’t replicate in lunch dates shoehorned into lunch hours or multitasking over kids’ playdates. How could I have guessed the tenor of those careless days would become as exotic as ______ ? (it occurs to me that nothing once considered exotic is still exotic. You can get anything from anywhere now, really. Only time has grown exotic.)

These manic days are the moments of my life ticking by, irretrievable tomorrow. I moved across the country in hopes that life would slow down enough for me to notice it before it's gone. Apparently the problem is not a matter of geography. A pewter bowl sits on my kitchen table holding walnuts and a nutcracker. It takes time to crack a walnut and chase the meat from all its chambers. An appropriate wedding gift from two of the ladies who graced my mom’s kitchen table for many a rowdy hour. One day I’m going to figure out how to order my life in such a way that I might find a few good friends sitting around my table in the late afternoon while I refill their coffee cups and we giggle at nothing much and our children store up fond memories of the ladies who laughed and the ladies who loved them.


Karen Miedrich-Luo said...

Oh Allison,
I wonder how many of them, looking into a prismatic future, would have jumped at the chance to change places with you; wouldn't they have traded their chores and unchanging days for the adventures of a working artist? (without the strep throat, of course!)

Maybe it's a perspective issue. My fondest memories that replicate yours are when I was a young bride with a young toddler, hanging out with other mothers just like me, sharing a likeminded faith, trying to change the world by the way we raised our children. Ignorant of the future, full of optimism, with no higher goal than to do good, I had no idea of raging sea beneath me.

It is God's grace we cannot see the future nor hold the past. In HS, I once read a short story about a young girl's "perfect" day. She wanted to live it over and over and savor each moment. She got her wish, and to her horror, discovered all the sinister things that resulted from her "perfect" day: the other girl that didn't make the cheering squad, the people she stepped on in her exuberant pride, the parents on the verge of divorce trying to make ends meet to fit her needs, etc. etc.

I, too, can't seem to find the balance. When I stop to smell the roses, I neglect the needs of my family. When I slow down our pace and spend time with the family, I neglect the house in need of cleaning. When I try to do it all, I cannot write. And all the time, Like you, I miss the company of friends.

allison said...

Thanks for that thoughtful response, Karen. I know the grass is always greener, etc. but I do think our fast paced, hi tech, info saturated generation has lost something as I suppose every generation does but our losses seem to be heavy in the tactile human interaction arena. When was the last time you got a letter in the mailbox, written by hand? A real letter, not a note or a thank you? When is the last time someone dropped in univited and you sat for an hour or two without worrying about the next thing that had to be done? Families used to share each other's daily lives, now we can't find time to book a plane trip for a quick visit between work and school demands. Is what was gained in opportunites and accomplishments worth what's been lost?

Amy C. Moreno said...

Oh Allison,
I so understand what you tugs at my heart daily. You're such a hospitality person too....maybe you could get together from time to time with one or two friends..that is what I finally ended up doing..once a week with 2 or 3 treasured friends...we get togehter, (not an easy task for 3 moms with 2-3 kids each of all ages in the Northern VA area...but it is heavenly. I wish you lived nearby..I'd love to hang out with you.
In one of CS Lewis's writings..there's a famous section where he talks about the longing we all have in our hearts..a thing like nostalgia, but's a sort of proof that there is a heavenly home out there and that we all long for it. (can't remember the name of the writing, but if I find it, I'll let you know. I think you'd relate to that one.
I am learning to take advantage of opportunities when they pop up, even if they are inconvienient (since my good friend passed away 3 months ago..and a loved one was diagnosed with alzheimers..time flies..gotta take advantage of what today offers.