by Mary Beth
What is the worst four-letter word in the English language? Ask a poet and they may answer “Time.” A poet is a philosopher with a heavy heart and what can weigh on the heart heavier than time. This is why so much poetry deals with time in one form or another. How many aspects are there to the fact of our fallen natures? Countless. How many of them can be defined through our words? Many can, but not time. Nevertheless, I will try.
Thoughts and Us
We can put a great deal of thought into the meaning of time in its three forms in one; Past, Present, and Future and yet it is difficult to aptly describe the deep frustration of time. All three are essentially forms of the past, a thought that can swamp the mind with great sadness. However, these thoughts regarding time cannot be depleted even with the passage of time. This is due to the eternal nature of the soul. Boethius spoke of something similar in his “Consolations of philosophy” naming philosophy and thinking (ordered to God) as what got him through his imprisonment as he awaited an unjust execution. Our earthly time is a pervasive wound ubiquitous to every part of us, that won’t let us forget. Even in the midst of laughter or joy. Our hopes for our eternal time, or lack thereof rather, occupies so much of our thought. But why is that? Not merely because we aspire to heaven, but because what goodness we have here on earth is marked by the arrow of time which is aimed squarely at our foreheads.
Where are you now that the Wrestling Match is over?
There is a video on Turner Classic Movies called TCM Remembers. There is one from the year 2007 in which everyone from the film industry who died that year, is honored. It is impossible to watch it and not think of the fleeting nature of time for every soul. It is beautifully done. Imagery of muted dusk skies with falling autumn leaves serve as the backdrop to the images of our recently passed on brothers and sisters of the human race. The video is set to the song “Promises” by Badly Drawn Boy. Quite a fitting title, Promises as the sadness of this piece is made a little milder by the remembering of the “Grand Promise” of eternal life. (By the only one qualified to promise) The piece captures but a fraction of what I feel deep in the recesses, not of my spiritual Catholic self, but my very human self. When I look at this video, I find I am very aware of the fact that I don’t know where any of these people have gone on to. I only know what I hope and why I hope it. I know what our faith teaches and I am not naive. But this life is hard, a grand wrestling match, that often seems so long and yet is shorter than any of us can bear. And so it is my wish when I look at those faces, they have by the grace of their Maker, gone on to that place and time where place and time are obliterated.
In the video, several things are striking, but what hits me the hardest are the clips of two men in particular. Ironically, or perhaps not so, both men are stuntmen. As neither are actors, these appear to be excerpts of their real selves in interviews. The first thought that occurs is that being a stuntman would be about the best job on the planet! (after being a swordsmith) These men have stories. And though we can’t hear their voices, it is clear they were just telling some of them! Both men are smiling as they tell them, and there is no need to hear their words because their meaning can be read in their faces. But there is too a tangible sadness in their eyes and in their movements. Particularly in the way that both men turn their heads to the side at a point in their laughter. They are the only two to do so in the entire sequence. This contains an arresting bit of meaning. And it is then that I noticed the underlying sadness in their eyes. And it brings tears to mine.
Why am I making such a point of these mere turns of the head when they could be simply inadvertent bits of body language? Because I think they are more than that. To turn your head away while recounting a memory, a piece of your life, implies a struggle with no small bit of pain. It looks as though in the midst of their joyous memories, in the middle of their laughter, that click in the head happens and that arrow hits. That incessant wound reminder. Is this why happiness, normally fleeting, and occasionally pure, always contains the accompaniment of sadness? And why often it is the good memories that are more painful than the bad? These two men are, undoubtedly MEN’S men; tough, strong stuntmen who get punched in the gut for a living. Yet even they can’t escape that wound and the vulnerability it creates. Their bittersweet laughter across their faces with missing teeth, tells us two things: Life is tough. And that it is so very brief, is tougher still.
Wishing that today was yesterday
-Promises (Badly Drawn Boy)
There is a scene from a 1950’s movie called “The Catered Affair” about an older devout catholic married couple of very modest means. They are not always happiest as life is very hard for them, but they are dutiful, good and humble. At the end scene they have a heart to heart as they prepare to go to their daughter’s wedding. The husband, Ernest Borgnine, remarks that they have been married a long time. His wife, Bette Davis asks “too long? Has it been too long?” To which the husband replies, “To know a person? It’s like a day.” Life is shorter than any of us can take.
Customs Lost to Time
We have very dear Catholic friends with whom we spent not nearly enough time with when we lived in Alabama(isn’t it funny how we refer to it as time “spent” as this denotes a deficit). One night after dinner at their house, I was hit with a wistful reminder of a bygone custom. A custom my father’s parents practiced after most visits. Our friends came out into the yard after we had said our goodbyes inside, and continued to do so, waving goodbye as we drove away. It occurred to me that no one does this anymore. There is a comfort I can’t quite describe in looking in the rearview mirror and seeing your friends or your family still standing there watching you leave. Sure it is partly because it’s always good to be loved, and because the human trait of real warmth is a rare one these days. But it is perhaps even better to know that other people hold on as we do. Just because that particular and all too fleeting bit of our time together is over, it isn’t over inside. Nor is it, God willing, in the next life. When I see my loved ones in the rear view mirror waving outside I see that all of us are holding onto a mutual hope in that promise of never having to say goodbye again. The defeat of time.
These are the human reasons why I wish that wish; for each of us to have the fortitude to will Heaven. So we can all be together in the place where time can’t hurt us anymore. Let us stand on our little patch of this earth and wave goodbye to those we love as they drive away. And let us help each other to will the everlasting yard, full of the softest, coolest grass to ever lay beneath our bare feet, together.