The Tale of Us Against the Monster: Time Stolen
My husband and I enjoyed our trip to Florida so much!! It was healthy for him to spend time with his sisters, and to laugh and enjoy each other. I only wish we would have stayed longer. I can’t imagine why we didn’t. We are now on permanent vacation…so to speak. For our brief time now, we have nothing but time. It’s a strange feeling too, learning to fill busy days, and finally just letting some of those days go by sitting together propped up on mounds of pillows, coffee cooling on the bedside tables, Shih Tzu snoring at our feet, watching television, and talking about nothing in particular.
I think that in our battle with the Monster, time is the first thing stolen simply because we don’t know how to refill it. The moments of our days that were once relegated to work, chores, family, friends, and church are now freed up, and we simply don’t know what to do with it all. Therefore, we feel we must be doing something productive, and believe me, I am no expert. I can only speak my small voice from this tiny corner of the universe to say that the most productive thing my husband and I did the other day was to sit propped against pillows in our bed, watching hour after hour of the Animal Planet. We laughed, pointed, shuddered, grimaced, and laughed some more. We held hands. He asked for a kiss. We ate potato chips. We didn’t answer the phone. There were moments of conversation. Moments of silence. A tear or two. Mostly, we were just together, sharing the same space. I don’t think any profound conversation passed between us. There were no great words of wisdom. He told me at one point to “Move over. You’re on my side.” And then, “Look! Your foot is touching my side!” I got annoyed with him, and told him to “Put a sock in it, buster!” We were just us being the us that we are…
I realize that every minute doesn’t have to be full of meaning and the despairing chase to fill the gaps in a dam that cannot be saved. You out there, I know how you feel…you feel you must say your words, and speak your heart while there is still time. I know. I know. Within our struggle (my husband and I) against the Monster, we are coming to understand that time is stolen from us only when we don’t allow it…when we don’t allow ourselves to spend the time we have left. I know that I will remember the holidays and the trips we had together. I will remember camping, and gambling in Vegas, walking the dog hand in hand, and laying on a Mexican beach. I will remember the hopes and dreams we shared, and every minute detail of the life we built together and what we would do if we won the lottery, etc. But I will also remember the afternoons spent propped up against pillows in our bed. I will remember the pillow talk. I will remember that it was in those softly lit moments of intimacy that I shared with this man, so strong and frail, my deepest secrets, and that no one alive will ever know me that way he knows me. So while no words of profundity passed between us that day, the time itself was “the pearl of great value.” Be comforted. No time is wasted if it is shared.
One of my favorite poems is by the wonderful Rainier Maria Rilke:
“I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough to make every moment holy. I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough just to lie before you like a thing, shrewd and secretive. I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will, as it goes toward action; and in those quiet, sometimes hardly moving times, when something is coming near, I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone. I want to be a mirror for your whole body, and I never want to be blind, or to be too old to hold up your heavy and swaying picture. I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie. and I want my grasp of things to be true before you. I want to describe myself like a painting that I looked at closely for a long time, like a saying that I finally understood, like the pitcher I use every day, like the face of my mother, like a ship that carried me through the wildest storm of all.”
I don’t know what this poem meant to Rilke, but I know what I think it might mean to my husband and I in this “here and now.” I think this is a voice speaking to itself. I think this is a person seeing herself in a mirror, and experiencing her being within the passage of time, and realizing who she is and what she wants to be. She sees herself in her great and clumsy eagerness to rush through life, her willingness to stubbornly avoid the consequence of time, her need to come to terms with herself, and her dire urgency to learn self-reliance. She is all of these conflicting things at the same time, both flawed and fearless, and oh so human. Mostly, this poem is about observing the moments that bring depth…moments that are “the quiet, sometimes hardly moving times,” that identify and release all that we are and all that we are to each other.
My sister has a terminally ill child. She told me that once, before they knew of his disease, they used to see time as a thing in volumes and oceans and ‘what will he be when he grows up?’ Then the diagnosis reordered their perception of time to ‘this is who we are today.’ She’s good at time now and gave me a new understanding of the wisdom of the Psalm, “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
The Monster has stolen life and replaced it with pain. It has taught us suffering. It has stripped the dreams of our future away and with it the hubris and untruth of ‘knowing’ tomorrow is also ours to spend as we choose. It has left us clinging to fragmented hope because we can no longer see the days rolling out before us like a carpet. All we have left are the moments. These moments, these irretrievable moments, the Monster will steal too if we are not careful. So now, as the Monster’s prison encloses around us, we huddle together, propped up against pillows in our bed, and live inside the moment where hands touch, kisses are exchanged, and we squabble over who is on whose side. And we learn what enduring love is and how the Monster cowers at the Light that still enters to defend us as we steal back from its cruel grasp our most precious moments…quiet, propped against pillows.