In the past few years, one of the things I seem to struggle with most is the passage of time. The older I get, the more I have to manage in my day, the more I have to juggle and overcome and balance, the more I get the sense that time is like the leaves that fell from the trees around our little red house in Connecticut when I was a child. There was a crab apple tree and a dogwood in the front yard, and a gallery of oaks between the driveway and the backyard. The combination created an opus of shapes and colors in fall, and a breathtaking dance unfolded in front of our eyes in October and November. I still remember the scent of the earth slowly becoming more fragrant as the trees began to let go of the crisp, brittle leaves that hung on by a thread and the lifeless ones formed a blanket that slowly melted into it.
The evolution from fat, colorful rainbows of golden browns, fiery reds and everything in between to a stark absence of anything bright felt so dramatic that it was almost draining. It seemed that all that was left when the leaves were gone was cold. That yearly cycle yielded a similar feeling that the passage of time does occasionally for me now. It can be sad and frustrating, the lack of control infuriating. It is inevitable though, as is the increasingly rapid rate at which time passes as we age.
I think the only defense against that sensation is to appreciate the magic that is behind it all, to try to feel the passage of time a little differently, to slow the pace if even for a moment, just enough to really hear the music you’re listening to on your iPod, or to really listen to your lover when he tells you about his day. Like searching for color in the barren trees in early winter, the passage of time can be beautiful and almost poetic, if we let it be. It isn’t easy to remember how much joy can be drawn from slowing down when you’re going 90 miles per hour, though. I too often forget what I know very well by now: the best moments in life are the ones when you are truly present. Birthday cake tastes far superior when you close your eyes for a bite or two and feel the icing thick on your tongue. My nephews laugh sounds just like heaven if I ignore for a moment the sound of my phone ringing or vibrating with work emails. B’s smile shines brighter when the computer and television aren’t tugging at the corner of my eyes.
When you’re a child, the ability to linger on the steps and watch the leaves waltz across the breeze is a luxury taken for granted – as an adult we rush past these moments and move on to the next ones without realizing what we’re missing. We’re constantly in pursuit of some “free” time, foolishly ignoring that “free” time surrounds us in the moments we skip over on our way to the gym or office or daycare.
It is a never-ending challenge to even remember that the leaves are falling around you, and it is often far easier to lament over the need for raking and tending than it is to stop and listen to the crunch under your shoes or the smell of the earth at your feet. My sister and her children were just in town for almost a week – time that came and went so quickly that I didn’t realize they had already left until almost two days later. I wish I could bring them back to sit with me on this quiet, rainy Sunday…but instead I will savor the moments I did have while they were here. I will leave my nephews fish-face lip marks on the glass and my niece’s tiny finger prints in the wax polished coffee table. Because those are leaves I would like to watch waltz across the breeze for just a little bit longer.