One of my favorite spots in the world was the front porch of my Aunt Bet’s house. When I was a teenager, I spent many a long happy summer evening sitting in one of the white cane-bottomed rocking chairs with my feet propped on the banister just a few feet from one of the most magnificent magnolia trees on the planet. It was heaven, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. There was something about those treasured summer nights that was magical. I didn’t look out across the future to a time (which is now) when I’d look back and long for those times. It was pure existential pleasure, and the thought of those times ending never seriously entered my mind. Of course I’ve always had a stark frightening realization of the fleeting temporal nature of people, places, and situations.
There is something about the passing of time, about being unable to embrace it and have it stop for even the briefest wisp of a moment, that forbids my senses even a shadow of understanding. The opening line of a long-running soap opera always began, “Like the sands through the hour-glass, so are the days of our lives.” But even the sand and its movement is something concrete, something we can witness and take in with mortal senses, but the time that the sands of the hour-glass measures still eludes our comprehension, defies our straining glimpse into its mysteries.
One thing the discipline of journaling does it to bring full force into my consciousness the ceaseless flowing of time. It is wonderful to be able to look back over the events, people, situations, and even the dreams of my life, but at the same time it is somewhat unnerving to ponder that today’s entry and the events and thoughts recorded in it are immediately swept into history. That history grows more distant in a smooth, even motion, but for some reason it is startling to stand at certain points along the way and look back and realize just how distant points in my history have become. It’s much like watching a child grow up. You see that child each day, and she grows all the time, but every so often there is a startling epiphany of just how much this child has grown. It’s almost as if you suddenly saw her grow before your eyes. Without the objective evidence of a date’s notation, it would often be difficult to remember if certain things happened two years ago or five.
It’s amazing how often reflection about time itself comes up in my journal entries. It’s such a compelling phenomenon, I suppose it’s inevitable, especially considering how focused on the specific date and hour each entry keeps me. I’ve often tried to reconcile my aging with memories of my youth. I remember once when my mother, starting into her eighties, looked at me with a sense of panic and said, “I’m old! How did this happen?” She was having one of those epiphanies of existential terror that we all go through from time to time, and no doubt these epiphanies become more dramatic to the soul as we get older.
Here’s a reflection on this very topic from a past journal entry. It was written on a loose sheet rather than in my regular journal, and the only notation of time was a year – and a very fateful year, because not long after I wrote it, my mother died:
From an undated journal entry in 2001:
The child...I watch my little girl (15 now) walking about the kitchen, and I look at her with a heart that could almost burst with love, and I think...what happened to the little girl who was four? Then I think ahead, ten years, twenty, and where will this little girl be...the child? But then I think, the child is there...the 4 year old, the infant, the 12 year old – all there. How about me?...I'm still that little boy sitting on the couch wearing green shorts and picking up gumballs with my bare toes. And Mama...still John White's little girl...and Grandpa, still a little boy growing up in the 19th century...in all of us the child is there. No one will enter the kingdom of heaven, Christ said, unless he or she becomes like a child.