A river that never pauses

Over the course of my life, there were days I wanted to salvage from the rush of time. I wished I could preserve a certain day from sliding away into the flow of time. I can picture myself clinging to a lovely, fulfilling day, repeating to myself “Don’t go—not yet—not yet—.” I wished I could stretch the day like a rubber band—pull it out and out and out. But time would not relent and the day slipped away as fast as any other.

I often wonder, where did they go, those used up days. John Donne wrote “tell me, where all past years are” (“Go Catch a Falling Star”). Do past years and days slip into nothingness? Or do they have some kind of eternal presence in God? Is there a gathering of all temporal times in an eternal present? Pavel Florensky, a Russian philosopher and priest, stated: “The past has not passed away, but is eternally preserved somewhere and continues to be real.” A modern Catholic philosopher, John Haught, also asks “do all things somehow remain in God?” He also asks “where does each moment come from in the first place?” (What Is God? p.25).

God is the giver of time. The sovereignty of God over the length of our lives is taught in Scripture. Our days are numbered, our term of life is fixed. Job 14:5: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and set limits he cannot exceed.”

Psalm 139:16: “In your book were written all the days that were ordained for me when none of them as yet existed.” We all have our earthly allotment of time. A number of psalms pray to God: “Do not take me away before my days are complete” (Psa.102).

The Scriptures frequently summon us to remember the past, e.g., Psalm 143:5: “I remember the days of long ago…I muse on the work of your hands.” When I look over my own life and ask myself which years of it I would particularly like to live over again, I think the happiest times were my boyhood times, the time when life was young. As W.B. Yeats put it, it was the time “when I was a boy with never a crack in my heart” (“The Meditation of the Old Fisherman”).

My boyhood years were kind years to me. There were those vanished summers of a simpler era, a time of splendor in the grass. I shopped at Kresge’s and took girls to ice cream parlors. It was a time of innocent and uncomplicated faith. Something I chiefly remember about those days is the absence of fear. Now fear seems to be a companion of us all. Job 29:1,4: “Oh, that I were as in years past…As I was in my flourishing days, when God sheltered my tent.” Or, as Shakespeare put it, “O! call back yesterday, bid time return” (Richard I, Act 3, Scene 2).

Time moves and all things come to an end. All things run their courses to their appointed ends. As Edmond Waller, the 17th century poet, put it in his beautiful poem “Go, Lovely Rose” there are so many lost and lovely things. Even that which is wondrous, sweet and fair doesn’t last. “The time of her sweetness and fairness, will be short lived.”

There is a Spanish proverb that says, “there are three tyrants—the weather, il Padre, and il Tempo.”

There are the dear, dead joys of those days long past—the brightness and beauty that could not last. So many people I loved from my boyhood days naturally have died. When you lose somebody who remembers who and what you were in the fifth grade, you bury a part of yourself, a part of your life. Nobody remembers me as the fifth grader who made that splendid catch on a baseball field long since plowed under for condominiums. There’s no one in whose eyes I can meet that fifth grader who sank the two foul shots that won that important game.

The dead are very close to me these days. I can see their faces. I long for them to be living and to have it all over again. There was a song from my boyhood days titled “Till We Meet Again”:

Smile the while you kiss me sad adieu.
When the clouds roll by I’ll come to you…
So wait and pray each night for me
Till we meet again.