As time slips away, we find ourselves looking around in amazement at how things have changed in a flash: a job ending just when you were really getting settled in, children grown well past the magical toddler stage in which you remember them, middle age not some strange far-off place but well behind you now. Author Mark Phillips explores the fleeting nature of time in Notre Dame Magazine, where he writes about meeting up with his daughter at a Manhattan pub for drinks:
As parents often are when they study their grown children, I was moved by banality; during a pause in our conversation … I wondered where the time had gone and felt overwhelmed by love. Or was it self-pity? I pictured my daughter, bluish pink and weakly squirming, placed in my arms for the first time—none of the hair on my forearms yet gray.
It’s this kind of nostalgia, incidentally, that inspired the backlash post “Don’t Carpe Diem,” which recently made its rounds of the mommy blogosphere. That writer, a woman with young kids, is sick of older folks stopping her in the grocery store to say, hand over heart, “Oh, enjoy every moment! This time goes by so fast!” She clearly has not yet entered her time-has-slipped-away phase.
But for Phillips, the question of how rapidly the years disappear is a central theme in his life—and one to which he wants answers. The best answer, by far, comes from his grandmother, a widow:
The question I wanted to ask was in itself benign, but maybe not when directed at a person who is marking time on her final calendar….
…I asked, “Did it go by fast? The time?”
She nodded, dropping the slice back onto the platter. “Oh, yes.”
The raised window glass still rather damp from the steam, she looked through a cotton-plugged screen and past the bug-zapper hanging from baling twine tied to a beam of the white front porch and on past the marigolds and petunias and pansies edging the curving length of gravel driveway, into a pastured distance that I didn’t know like she did. She smiled almost imperceptibly at whatever it was she saw there. “It went like Grandfather ate a piece of apple pie.”
Danielle Magnuson is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter @DnlMag.