Once upon a time, when I was young and sweet and foolish, I didn’t realize what death was. I recognized that it was the ending of life, but it felt so far away, like a vivid dream that you can’t quite remember. The ending of a life, yes, but what I couldn’t understand was that it was the ending of other things, bigger things, bigger than a life, maybe. Or the pieces of a life.
I did not realize this until it was happening to me.
Death is the ending of a motherhood, of a fatherhood. The ending of a marriage, a partnership, a relationship. The ending of a job, a career, a successful hobby. The ending of nights out with friends, of quiet cups of coffee on slow Sunday mornings. The end of feeding ducks, the end of walks in the moonlight, the end of lost keys and broken things and fights in the night. The end of the bad things and the good things.
How do we decide what to mourn? How do we know?
My initial instinct is to mourn the love lost, the unexpected pain of the end of that person’s embrace. I want to remember what that person’s smile looked like in a moment of incandescence. I want to remember what that person’s hand felt like in mine. I want to remember how it felt to look into that person’s eyes and feel known.
What I don’t think about as much is how much I valued — or didn’t value — the time spent with that person. Every single moment is a chance to feel someone, to know someone, to interact with, to understand, to love someone else. How much time do I spend every day doing things, things that don’t matter and won’t have any impact on the relationships I am developing with other people?
I remember sitting on the back deck, drinking whiskey and staring at the stars with the intention of a person who is trying to run as far away as possible. I couldn’t be inside, with the fingers of death raking over the carpet, ruining the furniture, slowly coloring everything around me. I couldn’t bear it. So I used my time selfishly trying to get away, to distract, to exist somewhere else. I may have succeeded, in that I didn’t feel as much pain in those drunken moments as I do now, reflecting on them.
How much time did I give you? Was it enough? Did I say all the things I should have said? Did I hold your hand enough? Did I tell you I loved you enough times for you to fully understand how much this ragged heart really loved you? Did I explain how you taught me to wait for good things? Did I encourage you enough as you made your way down that dark and dreadful road you didn’t choose? How much more time could I have given you? How many times could I have chosen you over my whiskey and starlight?
How much more time could I have given?
The answer is — never enough.
Even lovers in the throes of passion cannot give each other every moment of their time. Parents cannot give every second of their time to their children. Friends cannot spend all of their moments together. Time is a desperately hungry creature with an appetite and an agenda. We are entirely gilded yet also ensnared by time and her forever unsatiated desires. We will never get enough time, and even if we did, even if we had all the time in the world, we would squander and abuse it, because that is what we do with things.
Unless it is a thing that we love.
Love and Time dance like old lovers on the floor of our lives. We allow the things we love to dictate how our time is spent, and we use our time to do and be with the things we love. They are forever intwined and symbiotic. I believe we allow ourselves, our time and energy, to be dictated by what we love most. Parents prioritize their children, because they are created from love and our natural instinct is to love and protect them. Lovers long to spend time together, because it gives us space to show our love to one another.
The depth of love can be measured in units of time, and the breadth of time can be measured with the yardstick of love.
Love does not equal time. Time does not equal love. To confuse them is to trivialize them. They cannot replace one another, and they can’t be substituted.
If you’re going to be with a thing, be with it, fully and unabashedly. If you’re going to love a thing, love it with every bit and particle you have. Before you know it, your time will be gone, and all you will have left is the love you had for that person. Memories fade but somehow, the love stays as strong as the day it was realized.
Did I give you enough time? Maybe not as much as I should or could have, but I gave you every ounce of my love and that, I believe, may be enough.