This year – 2021 – is the year of big milestones for me. In 20 days, I turn 50. And at the end of the year, if I’m fortunate enough to still be here, I’ll be honoring 20 years since my breakdown. 20 years of borrowed time that I never would have experienced had it not been for a suicide plan interrupted. Twenty years of life on a level I could never have imagined.
I can honor both of those milestones with a toast to the past and a table set for the here and now.
I don’t want to look back anymore. The past is getting further and further away (as the past is wont to do). It stretches and I feel the urge to release it back into the stream. Ultimately, I will have no choice. It IS the stream and trying to hold on to it is futile. From time to time, I may scoop some of it up in my hands and marvel at the beauty of the patterns it forms, at the rippled reflection of my aging. But always it will slip through my fingers. It is the nature of time. I prefer to look at where I’m standing and continue to wade upstream.
Do you ever get future nostalgia? That feeling when you are in a moment and you recognize how fleeting it is? A few years ago I wrote of the experience this way:
“Do you see this glass? I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”
~ Ajahn Chah
This is how time works for me: Sitting around a campfire with my wife and my soul-sister, a moment stills as if captured in the frame of a photograph. We are all laughing and I see the three of us as if I’m floating above the scene. We are beautiful, lit by fire and life and love. We are also ghosts in this ship of time. Mayflies, belonging to the order Ephemeroptera. Ephemeral. And in a blink, the laughter subsides but I cannot stop grinning because I’ve witnessed a miracle. The broken glass, whole and holy and full of light.
A bright light has gone out of the world. I met Steve Barney at New College of Florida and had the great fortune of being housemates with him both in Sarasota as well as years later in Portland, Oregon. He was the kind of person whose very name makes those who knew him smile. I don’t have a single negative memory of Steve. Our interactions were captured in a few wonderful moments of time, not an ongoing presence in the stream like some of my other college friends. And yet just knowing he was in the world made it feel like a better place. Now all of our memories of him will need to carry the light on their own.
My two closest friends from that era and I had a zoom call to toast to Steve on what would have been his 51st birthday yesterday. We’ve been friends my entire adult life, meeting when I was a newly minted adult of 18. A little over three decades ago now. And as we told stories, laughing and wondering more than once at how we survived our own follies of young adulthood, I felt the presence of the broken glass made whole for a brief moment once more.
Those are the moments of grace, the true milestones of my life, the ones that happen in between heartbeats.
How grateful I am to hold them in cupped hands, however briefly.