Wednesday, April 06, 2016

This Wonderful Too Short Life

"It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death." ~Thomas Mann

Our 3's class had its monthly parent meeting on Monday night, a session that was kicked off by an hour and a half of parent education moderated by our wonderful North Seattle College parent educator Katie Becker. The set up was simple: each of us was to share a parenting "high" and a "low." Then we, as a community, helped one another noodle through our lows. I engaged in similar sessions as a cooperative parent and, not surprisingly, we talked about exactly the same things fifteen years ago: tantrums, not eating, whining, sibling issues, bedtime challenges.

I remember the same sense of guilt and frustration expressed by those parents, but now, with a daughter who has successfully launched herself into the world as a college freshman, those days seem so long ago and, honestly, so incredibly insignificant in the grand arc of life. I mean, of course, those feelings and what I learned are real and important, but they occupied so little of my actual time as a human on this planet that, from the perch I sit on today, it's hard to feel anything but envy for what those parents are going through, even when it's bringing them to tears. What I wouldn't give to be in the midst of that all too brief moment again.

Time is a strange thing. My own four years of high school were a long, complex journey, while my daughter's four years were over in a flash, just as the phase of whining was over in what now seems like a long weekend. My own childhood was long and expansive, with so much packed into it I could never hope to remember it all, whereas that of my child went by before I knew it and every detail is as fresh as yesterday.

In German author Thomas Mann's greatest novel, The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg), he writes about this phenomenon of how time is not the consistent, universal thing we tend to think it is, but rather something that is shaped by the orientation of those experiencing it. When you live life "horizontally" (reflectively, disengaged, in repose), for instance, the time may seem long as it is lived, passing slowly, yet when you look back upon it, you see a largely empty blur of sameness that, in fact, passed in a flash. When, on the other hand, you live "vertically" (active, engaged, moving forward) the time passes in a flash as it is lived, yet seems impossibly rich, full and long in retrospect. Most of us live a life that is some sort of balance of the two which is why it always seems to ebb and flow.

Yes, there is a scientific way to measure time, to make it universal, but our individual experience of it is one of perspective. A part of me always wants to take those parents by the shoulders, look into their eyes, and say, "Cherish this. Even this. Live this moment fully because it is short and it will be gone and a part of you will go to your grave pining for it." This isn't to say that I'd trade places with any of them, but with my baby now grown and living across the continent, my perspective shows me time in a new way, and the things that once seemed like endless frustration were merely small tribulations from which lessons were learned, in the course of this wonderful too short life as a parent.

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