The secret to our enjoying Spring 2017 is to adjust our sense of time. If we live our lives in linear time, we are screwed. It’s a slow march toward senility and death, if truth be told, and for those of us who are not comforted by belief in the Afterlife, that’s a pretty grim prospect, especially when you are in your 70s. And when, as I sit here writing this, Kim awaits surgery to stabilize her back for radiation therapy after months of unrelenting pain, it is grim indeed. Short-term results are uncertain – we are in that gray area between hope and denial. Long-term results, for Kim and all of us, are quite certain. I recall a satirical headline in The Onion: “Death Rate Holds Steady at 100%.”
Several years ago I published an article, “Surviving Act IV,” about the difficult move into a transition that involves aging, retirement, and the need to redefine our identity. Well, now we seem to be moving into Act V, and in Shakespearean tragedy, we know how that ends.
Spring, however, presents us with an alternative to linear time in the form of cyclical time. I used to experience it regularly when I was teaching, especially in the fall with new students every year. I cycled through the curriculum, with September featuring old-guy (maybe 40) Odysseus kicking butt, and April with English Romantic poetry. My students were always the same age, and this, in a way, allowed me to deny linear time.
Now that I am retired, it is spring that puts me into cyclical time. Spring demonstrates renewal – buds, blossoms, birds, baseball – a welcome alternative to the long one-way downward slide. We cycle from day to night to day, wakefulness to sleep to reawakening. We cycle from healthy to sick, then to regained health. Usually. But not always . . ..
And then there is stopped time. I’ve started reading Mindfulness by Tessa Watt. The first exercise involves living in the moment by fully experiencing a raisin. We didn’t have one (I didn’t think of mining the Raisin Bran), so I used a prune, left over from our long drive back to Traverse City. As instructed, I looked at it closely, felt the textures with my fingers, smelled it, even listened to it as I squeezed it near my ear. And then I slowly and deliberately tasted it. Yes, it worked! I was in the moment, and while in that moment Kim and I were not inching toward mortality.
It doesn’t have to be prunes. Genne’ can stop time tasting a glass of wine, and I suppose I can, too. I can stop time touching and smelling Kim’s hair, tasting the Spanish rice with sausage she has prepared, despite her back, or listening to the sound of spring right outside our window.
Another way to deal with linear time is to change the subject from Time to Love. By “Love” I don’t mean something you feel, but something you do. I recall that when Kim and I were dating, I summoned up enough courage to tell her, “I love you.” Her response? “Prove it.” How wise is that?!
I’m not sure what happens to time when I am loving, but it feels suspended rather than stopped. When I am loving Kim, by folding the laundry, hustling to the drug store, or listening to each other recount the night’s dreams, our mortality is irrelevant – or maybe it even enhances the experience of love. Receiving love also mitigates the pain of linear time. We love phone calls from family and friends. We were moved when Fleda and Jerry left a beautiful green plant at our door, and when Alice brought over a pot of chicken soup. And I don’t think I ever saw Kim so profoundly joyful as when Genne’ told her this afternoon that she and Reilly, her daughter, were getting three birds tattooed on their ankles –three generations of women, linked together. I’m generally not a big fan of tattoos, but I’ll make an exception when they create a triumph of love over mortality – over time itself.