BY CHRISTY A. CLAPPER
UPDATED JULY 25, 2021 09:35 AM
When our daughter was little she used to ask from the back seat of the car if we were, “closer to the front or the back” when making long trips. It meant, were we closer to our destination or closer to from whence we came. She was so young when she began to understand time. “Closer to the front” has taken on a whole new meaning these days for me, many years now separated from our daughter’s childhood.
Time is an interesting construct. It is not human, not even tangible, yet we feel it every day. Everything about our lives is measured relative to “time.” It measures our days, weeks, months, years, decades and lifetimes. We assign tasks, appointments, events, and life moments to this fleeting, intangible construct. We utilize all kinds of tools and calendars to measure it. We think of events in terms of past, present and future. We use tenses of verbs to frame time. One’s whole life is ordered by time. Though not necessarily bad, I suppose other organizational forms could do the same; day and night, or the tides, or the seasons, but even those too are constructs of time.
Recently I saw a video about the Hubble Space Telescope that had been trained on the heavens in places where scientists believed there to be nothing, only to discover — over time and the use of an extraordinary camera — that there are millions of galaxies beyond the darkness; universes outside our imaginings and potential life, perhaps even like Earth. It compelled me to think about how small, how really insignificant we are in the grander scheme.
Nothing causes you to question your existence more keenly than death. It’s been said that the years you were born and died are less important than the dash in between. It’s what you do with the dash that matters. But, when you look back on the history of an individual and follow the timeline of events, the life markers of things that happened in that life, you feel bound to apply significance to the existence of that life. This person held a place in time whose presence meant something significant and extraordinary to his/her contemporaries. This human being lived, worked, played, talked, laughed, loved, cried, and a whole host of other verbs. This person was loved by others and then was gone.
Time over. Closer to the front. Arrived.
We have choices about how we think about time. We can worry about it, use it “wisely,” do good for others, pray, and take care of ourselves — to the degree that we can slow the effects of time. We can fear death or we can accept death, but we cannot stop it. In reality, time never stops — except it does, for each of us, and at some unknown moment our individual clocks will stop. We will get closer to the front and then we will arrive at our destinations, each of us.
I continue to struggle with the “letting go” of those who have gone before me — and most recently, my dad. I can’t explain this except to say that when you are very young death is foreign. It is outside of you. You are distant from it. There is still a lot of time for you, regardless of who the deceased was relative to you. I think youthfulness is very protective and full of hope. If one is healthy, vibrant, and relatively care-free, being “closer to the front” could not be farther from your mind.
But I am no longer youthful. I am beyond middle-aged; in fact, I am probably closer to the front than I might like to know. And I think that the crux of what this whole struggle has been about is recognizing and accepting my own mortality. It seems there is only one way to think about this reality, that the higher power who created all those heavens, who created me, and even created time intends for me to use my dash for the betterment of mankind as I move “closer to the front.” For me, a belief in the hereafter gives me peace. That conviction is what will get me to the end of the trip; the promise of something better or more beautiful than anything I have ever experienced or could imagine. I am grateful for that promise.
And so, the day will arrive when I, too, will finish the journey. My loved ones and so many others have already successfully arrived — finishing their journeys — completing their lives. With every passing second, we all move closer to the front. Since there is no escape, we must make the most of the present journey to successfully move on. And when that time arrives, I will be ready, anticipating the new journey ahead, and my heart will be filled with hope.
Christy A Clapper, Ph.D., is a retired Pennsylvania School Counselor whose daily efforts focused on student development; often working through life changes and personal crises to shepherd each of them to a place of hope through growth. This column is coordinated by www.learningtolivewhatsyourstory.org, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.
This was first printed in the Centre Daily Times on July 25, 2021.