It takes a little while to discover that life is always full of surprises. When we are growing up, it can be so easy to see our days as boringly repetitious. It’s as if we are waiting on life to happen and often missing that we are already using up precious minutes longing for the next season ahead. We associate “surprises” as unexpected, delightful things that brighten the routine of our daily life.
In childhood we have such a great lot of time. The clock appears to tick slowly.
Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow, introduces us to an insightful perspective on time that I doubt we can conceptualize when we are young. Listen to these words on the subject:
“Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory.”
We can be full of “can’t wait till…” moments. We can’t wait till we get our first bicycle, get our own room, are able to walk or ride to a friend’s house in the neighborhood unaccompanied. We can’t wait till we are tall enough to ride that great coaster at the amusement park that measures how tall we are to give us a “thumbs up” to ride. The list goes on and on. We fail to recognize or value we have already started creating a scrapbook of memories.
It doesn’t stop in adolescence. We can’t wait till we get our driver’s license, get our first car, or go to our first dance. We dream of life on our own and want to be free to make all our own choices. We are so busy wishing for tomorrow that we sometimes are shocked when high school graduation comes along. We look ahead to what seems like a long journey of things to discover, experience, acquire, and accomplish. Of course, there may be some jitters, moments of uncertainty here and there, but we rarely admit it to anyone. Not even to ourselves. Isn’t this what we have been eager to enjoy?
Our feelings become contradictory. We want to be on our own, but perhaps for the first time we take a backward glance at home and the life we have known. It’s a momentary glance very often because the road ahead still beckons us onward. It still doesn’t occur to us the road will take many turns ahead. There will be more intersections than we can imagine. We may get a hint here or there that the road will have an end when some distant aunt or uncle dies. When a grandparent dies, it will occupy just a few more moments of thought. That thought will be short-lived because they are “old” after all. The idea that it will happen to us is not on our radar screen.
Early adulthood will bring with it the awareness that we need to sort out this new season we have so much desired. Choices are not as straightforward as we had thought. Our days fill up with advanced education, getting a job, and finding a person to share the journey with us. We return to that old habit of “can’t wait til…”
We can’t wait till we find the “dream job”, move to that place we always wanted to live, have enough money to buy our own place. And it doesn’t stop there, little by little almost without our awareness life keeps happening. We meet that “perfect someone” and can’t wait till we get married and start a family of our own. Getting older is not something we give much thought to after looking forward to it throughout our childhood. When a certain pivotal age comes along, we may pause and wonder how we arrived there so soon. After all, isn’t that the age my parents are?
In Jayber Crow, we hear the main character reflecting on the discovery we only find as we see the end of the road appearing in the distance,
“And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.”
Those memories are a patchwork of sorts with some of the pieces in bright, bold colors and others in duller shades. Perhaps they become more precious to us because we alone know the intricacies of our story.
After all, as Jayber reflects:
“Telling a story is like reaching within a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told…there is also more than needs to be told, and more than anybody wants to hear.”
It is unlikely we would have believed those farther ahead of us if they had articulated this to us. We were, after all, different than they. Our life was and would be different, wouldn’t it?
And yet as we approach the end, our vision is enhanced by a wider-angle lens. We know more, but now we see there is less time ahead and we would slow the ticking if we could. We start to take stock of what we did with all the time (now memories) and assess what sort of steward we were.
Jayber understood that as he looked back and ahead:
“And so there would always be more to remember that could no longer be seen. This is one of the things I can tell you that I have learned: our life here is in some way marginal in our own doings, and our doings are marginal to the greater forces that are always at work. Our history is always returning to a little patch of weeds and saplings with an old chimney sticking up by itself.”
If only we knew back then, but maybe we were not supposed to know. Maybe we are supposed to discover that all life has meaning, that time is precious, and the end is always closer than we think.