But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot drawing near …
Andrew Marvell, urging his lady love, to seize the day and love right now, love like the end of time, the end of life, is imminent. Andrew Marvell, among my favorite Metaphysical Poets, inscribing in burning letters, the fears of mortality in my consciousness, in my 19th Autumn. And so, as my entire class, in their final teenaged year, erupted to seize the day, the insecurity that lay securely in the inevitability of oblivion, gripped me.
At nineteen, I stopped hearing the call of the wild. I could not hear the ringing of bells, or the sound of music. I could only hear the hooves of approaching horses, against the cracking earth, as the dust behind them covered what went before, and what would come after. I could hear time. I could hear it ticking like a bomb.
And since then, everything I have felt, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g I have done, has been axed into shape, paired in perfect unison, with my panic for my mortality. “We will all be dead someday, and we will become strangers. I will NEVER see my loved one again. My Mom, my husband. They will all become strangers. Like we never knew each other.” I would hear these words, and those hooves, over and over again, as I tried to show affection, make calls, write notes, pack lunch, submit papers, walk after a c-section, wake up to breastfeed – all with an urgency, and all with tremendous commitment. Like it was my last chance, the last time.
Until it really was the last time. And I did not know.
For once in years of reflexes built on the acute consciousness of time running out before I thought, did, showed, spoke, and wrote enough, time did not talk to me, as my instincts drowned in an hour-long slumber that July morning. No longer did its winged chariot kick up blinding dust, as my daughter’s tiny heart stopped beating. As it screeched to a halt, a spiraling, yet irreversibly motionless halt, time stopped along with it.
And yet, over this past year and half, I have been made aware of time’s role, its character, on various occasions, in myriad ways. The healer, they say it is. If not directly, they indirectly refer to its motion, in asking me if I am better, in wishing me well into my 38th autumn on earth, in trying to remind me how I used to weave thoughts into words because I believed in posterity. My friends, my well wishers, are all reliant on time, faithful devotees in prayers to its power to "heal" me.
At home, I am aware of its motion still. It does not move for me, but it does for a little boy, who emerged from my ripened belly five years ago tomorrow. As he is now able to count “up to a hundred,” and measures everything in hundreds, he often asks me how big he will be when he is four hundred years old. Will he be too old, he wonders. If he is growing a few inches every year, he may even touch the roof when he is hundred! And always, always, he is sad that he is growing up. “Why is there no end to counting,” he asks me. He thinks we count on and on, and we live on and on. That death is not inevitable, it seldom happens at random. The son, the only living child of a once-mortality-fearing paranoid woman, he does not know about mortality yet.
And then there is the new year. A friend gets married on New Year’s Eve, there is a party, everyone is hugging and kissing their loved ones, as they almost visibly, almost palpably, step on to another capsule of time. In their midst stands an odd family. They don’t hug. They huddle. They somehow measure time in distance, that time-space singularity maybe? They see the year as one step farther from 2013, the only year their smallest member lived. They do not understand anything more. They don’t think it’s a fresh start, a new beginning, another walk on earth. They know as the clock strikes twelve, that they have now completed a full calendar year without her. In this new year, just like in the one just gone by, they just want to be spared.
Over this past year and half, I have realigned my strained relationship with time. I have questioned why I am suddenly not aware of its relentless motion, and yet I feel I am sinking deep into its pit every moment. I have wondered why I sometimes feel all of it is lost, and sometimes I believe I have all the time in the world. I have reassessed all my thoughts and actions in relation with time, wondering how much of life is contained in the amount of time it takes to live it. And how much life is carried in the amount of time one did not get to live it.
A collection of moments. A wreathe of the past, present, and future. Often linear. Oftener cyclical. Flying on a winged chariot, sucking into a shapeless hole. I have sought its meaning, wondering why it has not “healed,” nor made me “feel better.” I needed to know why it has forsaken me.
And then I did. Find. An. Answer. I saw that the future, that ongoing journey of hope and brightness, should be my daughter’s walk. She is my future, she is the meaning of time. After I have had my children, my time is with reference to them. I am 38 because my son is going to be five. I am tired because my son is getting bigger. I need to brush up my math because he is beginning to count. I should have been thirty seven when my daughter walked, and thirty eight and half when she talked. I should have been a fifty-year-old mom to a fourteen-year-old daughter, and a seventeen-year-old son. Now, THAT would be some meaningful time.
Instead, she is not walking, or talking, or wearing lipstick at fourteen. I am walking into time, without a reference to my life. My parents, my past. My spouse, my present. My children, my future. Half of my future is gone. I am scared to dream of the other half.
The winged chariot is drawing near still. But it is slowly creeping up on me. I am no longer aware of it, no longer scared by it, no longer instinctively a seizer of the day.
I am instead a floater, a sinker, a directionless thinker. A lost painter in the wilderness of time, merely trying to etch a permanent path between the moments I had with my daughter, and an eternity without her.
What does time mean to you after the loss of your child(ren)? What have you heard from others regarding time's power on loss, and how do you think about it?