How To Love The Passage of Time
Envisioning the future again after loss
3 min read
Recently I've started to understand the narrator of the Talking Heads love song, "This Must Be The Place." The stand-out line in that song, for me, is, I love the passage of time.
Not long ago, I couldn't understand that sentiment. One of the biggest corollaries of losing my parents at a young age was that I lost the ability to truly envision a happy future. I couldn't even see (pun intended) that this secondary loss was happening. I just felt an undercurrent of helplessness and lack of clarity beneath the surface of my daily life. Time didn't feel like my friend.
Almost 15 years elapsed between my dad's first diagnosis and my mom's death, both of them struggling with multiple bouts of cancer before dying at home in St. Louis. It was like watching the slow-motion wrecking ball of sickness destroying the place you love.
Sometimes trauma is a tsunami coming from nowhere, and sometimes trauma is a faucet dripping for years and years and years.
It took me another 15 years, on the far side of their deaths, to find dry land worth building my life on.
I hesitated through my 20s and 30s, making educated guesses about what I might want to do with my life, from an understandably anxious, traumatized mental perch.
I worked a cluster of jobs, without scaling a career. I went to grad school for my MFA - not a career-making move, either, of course, though it was a great way to commit to my writing. I put many, many hours into therapy, and I meditated diligently, befriending myself over and over again.
At 29, I had moved to California, where I sought out a spiritual, surrogate family, a safe place to unload the heavy duffel of my past. I spent many weekends attending workshops at a spiritual school in the Bay Area. Parts of me that had been waterlogged, underdeveloped, started to take shape.
Then, at 33, I got into a relationship with a person who never wanted to get married, though he knew it was something I wanted deeply. I convinced myself that, given time, I could convince him to commit. Almost five years went by; he didn't change his mind. Then my best friend's mother died at 71 of Alzheimer's.
At Debby's memorial service, I finally realized that waiting, fawning, and arguing with my then-partner were all self-limiting and pointless. Time was short, and nothing was guaranteed. On my return flight to Oakland, I decided to break up with him, though it meant being alone.
With the courage to say my No - No, this is not what I want - I began to carve out space for a future I could fully embrace, even if I was walking toward it with empty hands.
It takes strength to sit with emptiness - it can feel like the starkest loneliness - but it is also where accidents of grace are most likely to appear.
In 2021, three years after ending that relationship, I met the man who is now my fiance.
For me, being in a committed relationship is unlocking a force of nature which the tyranny of the past had imprisoned. My eyes are adjusting to a new, brighter landscape, its edges stretching off into the distance. My ability to envision a personal future, for this moment at least, has roared back to life. I feel lion-like, fierce and free.
And my experience of time has a more lively quality, morphing and shimmering as I sift through past reflections and unfold wrinkling dreams. I think, God has been playing peek-a-boo with me all along.
So, although I wasn't able to say it (and mean it) until recently, I really do love the passage of time - this precious mystery that arrives in each moment.