Time is a funny thing. At any given moment I may feel like it’s standing still, like I have “all the time in the world.” Other times I can almost see time zooming by like the landscape outside my car window running past at 80 mph on a 14-hour trip home. I can’t imagine a more apropos image of time than sand moving through the middle of an hour glass. Like sand moving under ocean waves … utterly impossible to hold on to. Immediately upon our awareness of a moment, it is gone.
Looking hard at turning 50 means a lot of time has passed in front of my eyes, be they wide open or slammed shut. 50 years = 438,300 hours, 26,298,000 minutes, 1,577,880,000 seconds. Of course, the immensity of the number of seconds, minutes, even the 400k+ hours just makes my eyes cross. I’m not even sure how that kind of time translates into a life of days, months, and years.
And while I don’t think I’ve gone through life with my eyes closed, inattentive to its lessons, with 50 just around the corner, I begin to wonder. Where has all that time gone? What, if anything, have I managed to produce? What have I learned and have the lessons changed the way I live – who I am? Or as the saying goes, ‘What do I have to show for all that time?’ What about the time I have left? What exactly am I supposed to be using that for? What about today? Was the activity packed into the last 24 hours worth anything? Wonder what ocean all that sand is buried under.
Most of my life has been defined by my relationships; and, in a very real way, time itself has defined me. In my younger days I would have balked at such a statement. The very idea that anyone’s ‘stage’ in life defined them would have offended my determination to define myself apart from any constrictions like time or place or even other people. Age has taught me differently. And while I would like to believe that I have allowed my faith to define me, even that has become as elusive as the outgoing tide.
Truth be told, it all started with family, brothers, sister, and parents, that morphed into peers, then friends, then almost-as-close-as-family college relationships. Marriage and kids opened a whole new realm from in-laws to the people I met because our kids played together.
As much as I hate to admit it, forces outside myself have always managed to define me, for good or ill, making my current situation bewildering at best, terrifying at worst. You see, for the first time in my life, I can say that I feel truly alone, cut off from others in any tangible defining way. The sense of being lost has never been so real to me as it has the past 3 years. Not ‘lost’ in a Christian sense as in losing faith – my faith in God has never been stronger. More like ‘lost’ in terms of my place in the world, my purpose for living. This feeling, wondering what I’m doing ‘here’ has left me with a kind of hopelessness born out of a loneliness for real connectedness in some ways almost too painful to describe.
Moving 25 times has not helped matters. Certainly in early years my ability to quickly establish deep friendships sustained me through times of loss as I left family and friends behind. But all the moving has also taken its toll on my ability to find and establish deep relationships in the first place. Bottom line? I’m tired. Wore slap out, as we used to say down South. How does one go deep, tear apart, and then do it all over and over again, at the same time managing the guilt associated with having to let go in order to move on? The pain sometimes feels like an accumulation of sand at the bottom of the hour glass, heavy and oppressive. Makes me want to shut down to avoid going through the process again. But loneliness is its own kind of oppression for an extrovert who has been defined by relationships all of her life.
I find that my ‘stage’ also has a lot to do with the difficulty I’m having establishing new friendships. My eldest (girls) are grown and gone from home and my teenage son has no interest in any kind of deep relationship with his not-really-very-cool mother. Moving at almost-50 into a small community has left me wondering if there is anyone around me who isn’t already over-burdened with their own years of accumulated relationships – too burdened to want to invest in a new one with me. At the same time hearing my spouse say, “We still aren’t settled,” implying yet another move, does not endear me to the idea of putting in any roots now, knowing the pain that comes with the uprooting.
Having to work full-time for the first time in 23 years has opened my eyes to the difficulty of establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships amidst the demands of work, commuting, and continuing household chores. There are literally days when I wish I could find a way to stop – everything – even time itself. Other days time feels like a prison cell, and I can almost see myself hemmed in to a little box running inexorably on a time-line which I can’t for the life of me escape.
Finally, having spent the first 40 years of my life steeped in religion, I never knew how very difficult it is to find meaningful relationships outside the 4 walls of the structure we call church. For me there is no going back to that arena. It took me a long time to see the machine-like quality, the distance-keeping business as usual of that structure, but now that I can see it, it’s all I can see. No amount of loneliness could drive me back into the dry bones of that dying institution.
So where does all this leave me? Looking hard at 50, thinking about the confines of time itself, sometimes grieving the loss of it, sometimes grinding my teeth at the speed of it. Recently, I’ve begun to see forward, linear time as the true curse we have been given over to. All of life’s ills from sickness to sadness to death itself spring from the well of forward linear time. I often imagine what life would be like if we could go back and relive an experience. I’m not the only one. Pictures, video recordings, movies about time travel, even the fast pace of our technological connectedness all testify to the human desire to overcome time’s limitations.
Strangely enough, that truth – that we are ‘stuck’ in forward, linear time – has given me hope. The very fact that I understand time to be the ultimate restriction to who we are as God’s image-bearers tells me I was made for a life without it. If thirst proves the existence of water, then our desire to control time proves that there is an existence beyond its limits.
I read a book of fiction this year that has impacted my life probably more profoundly than any other book save the Bible. Written by Jonathan Safran Foer, the book explores the idea that true redemption means everything running backwards, thereby putting all to rights. I cannot over stress the impact this idea has made in my mind. When one of the characters imagined the full extent of this possibility – beginning with the plane moving backwards out of the World Trade Center building, culminating in Eve “unpicking” the fruit from the tree – I couldn’t stop crying. I have come to believe that this is what true justice – true redemption – looks like.
Think about it. In forward linear time …
… a raped teen can never have her virginity back;
… a bereaved parent can never receive his child back;
… a harsh word can never be taken back, while the scars of our hurts remain indelibly etched on our hearts for all time. No amount of forgiveness or repentance can ever completely undo a wrong.
But what if redemption is the actual rolling back of time? What if we are going to see our pain, all the world’s suffering, in reverse – being UNdone? While it boggles the mind, I also know in my bones it must be true. When the prison doors that keep us locked in time are finally opened, the possibilities are endless! Why not this one? Why not the restoration of every broken relationship? Why not the healing of every loved one? Why not the complete redemption of the kosmos? Why not?Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”