The Time Traveler (Variations on a theme by Robert Herrick)

It is Sunday afternoon, with a hedge that needs to be trimmed, lush grass overgrowing itself and the annuals and perennials stretching up to absorb every drop of sun that they can get. Suddenly it is summer in Minnesota. A few weeks ago, when we were teased with the idea of warmth, the air remained raw and wet and cold. Today, it is as if the cold and wet could not possibly have existed. The shade is comfortable, and a breeze plays off my bare legs. I have foregone the orthotic to enjoy the unfettered dance of gentle wind and dappled sun, tree whispers and birdsong, all playing out in this little garden against the civilized hum of lawn mowing and traffic and commerce and recreation. In my State, this is a day that you can only imagine at other times of the year. In my state, it is respite from the weight of realistic calculation.

I think this beautiful day argues for the truth of Vonnegut’s famous line, “Listen, Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”

Listen, sometimes I come unstuck in time, floating between the sublime and the energizing, the feared and the fatiguing. Today is time travel, back and forth between imagery, both frightening and delightful. Today, I recharge, leaving the future to its own paths. I can understand how easy it would be to disengage from all of this. Dis ease does that to you. I can understand how you would want this to never end. Dis ease does that as well.

My thoughts have been so jumbled this week. We need some good news. It won’t come from the voyeurs in mainline TV news, even though they try with their feel good stories and cute pet tricks. I appreciate the attempt, but it is feeble in the face of dis ease. This week, I am laser-focused on so many friends who hurt, so many with conditions that threaten life and lived joy. The lump in the throat, the carried weight in the gut, the physical pain and the emotional devastation–all of these come to me as if their pain is my pain, their hope and fear is my hope and fear.

In time, I have watched loved ones wind down, and it is always their conscious engagement that goes first. The body has its own rhythms, and it takes it awhile to catch up to human intent. I remember my grandmother saying to me on the phone, “I don’t want you to send me anything anymore. I am done now.” It took her body three weeks to catch up to her conscious decision, and I still marvel at how she did it. In time, others will watch me wind down. I am unstuck—lumps and weights of hope and fear.

I wonder if I am more susceptible to time travel because the newborn summer is what I imagine when I need a space to recoup. Perhaps it is because these are the days I will lament most when they are gone. I cannot imagine living without them. Imagination is an irony that isn’t lost, for even though these days inspire me, that one act of imagining is dangerous, fraught with emotion, wonder and unknowable destinations. I cannot think of an activity as wild and in need of structure as imagining. I cannot think of anything that defies the discipline of mindful structure as the stream of consciousness musings that suddenly emerge into pictures of possibility, tidy yet unkempt, restful yet active. Time travel.

I float in this semi-conscious state. It is pleasant twilight, back and forth between naps and reading, reflection and dreaming. It is relaxation of the discipline of living in the moment that holds fear and grief at bay, allowing conscious vigilance to dissipate. Perhaps I will think on the loves of my life, or perhaps it will be the job that I still care so deeply about. Maybe it will be the all-important decision of a crisp beer or a nice Torrontes with dinner, or maybe it will be to decide not to decide. I know one thing. Even in this semi-conscious state, I have come to see the differences between what is really important, and what a long-lost friend used to call, “conversation while dancing.” Dis ease does this to you. You begin to pull away from the things that don’t feed your soul, or if you have to engage with them, you ask yourself why you are wasting this precious gift of life on such drivel.

In my own life, I find it harder and harder to take seriously the turf wars, the one-upmanship, the personal ambition over the common good, the street fights for (really, let’s be honest here) nothing but toys. Often now, in the middle of these pitched battles, I am not really there. I hover above them out of time and out of body. As the engagement in meaningless combat over this microscopic patch of temporal existence ensues, I ask myself, “What do we think we are doing? Do we honestly believe that in this striving of wills, we can acquire something that will hold off the logical conclusion, something that will result in ultimate victory?” In spite of the fact that we have proof to the contrary through the priceless relics of the dug up pharaohs of old, we still believe that it is possible to actually take it with you. Timeless and yet timed out, they could no more take it with them as we can, but the hubris of human pride is hard to shake. It is easy to become fearful, to think that acquisition is what will protect us from the finiteness of our eye blink on this planet. It is easy to believe that the person who dies with the most toys will actually win.

Don’t waste my time. I ought to be home collecting kisses from my one true love, celebrating this fraction of a microsecond in the history of this glorious creation.

Time travel breathes, and in its exhaled breath are the epiphanies of joy and love–the embrace of a friend, the smile of a loved one, the eye to eye exchange that says how much each of us is glad in this moment. So much, and it costs so little. In my heart, I know only too well that both my hopes and fears are in these breezes of time.

So I am breathing in hedges and grass, flowers and sound, the music of living. I promise not to go into John Lennon songs, or even to be tempted by the Temptations. It is no trivial thing to time travel. All those pasts are still in the concentric circles beneath our current place, and all those imagined futures circle out above us, shaped by the choices we make with the moments we are given. Listen…

I’m going to collect kisses now—past, present and future. It is the joy of gentle breezes, freedom from orthotics, and being unstuck in time.


9 thoughts on “The Time Traveler (Variations on a theme by Robert Herrick)

  1. Here’s to more newborn summer days, more floating above the turf wars, and kisses from those who love you. Don’t forget there are a couple of us in New Orleans.

  2. Dearest Bruce,
    Although I’ve not replied to you for ever-so-long, I want you to know you are still in my daily prayers. When I read your beautifully contemplative thoughts, I feel as though I’m stopping in the midst of busyness to breathe in, listen, and just feel blessed to know you. I have dear Sox, one of our kitties, literally at my left hand, bumping into me as I type. As you type your thoughts, know that you are being bumped into by so many who love you. Now she has settled on top of my arm. I still tap out on the keyssss. I think I will let her be.
    With great caring and love to you and Ev,

  3. Dear Bruce and Ev: You are in our thoughts constantly. Mostly in the past with our wonderful memories
    of you, music, and togetherness. We would do anything we could to bring joy to you now, as you have
    brought so much to us. Your writing is so creative that anything we say in response seems trivial by
    comparison. But you must know that when you are gone, your writings will have an immortality
    about them down here on earth. I would like to encourage you to keep writing because you have become
    so very important to so many of us with your words of strength and wisdom.
    Love, Bill

  4. Bruce, here is a kiss for you. May the smell of newly cut grass and blossoming flower fill your senses. May the hum in every key of the world be in your ears and may your eyes and the eyes of your soul be filled with those you love.

    As I have aged I find turf wars and posturing to be less and less acceptable. Life is far too short to win a contest and lose your life. May we all live in grace.

    Peace, Larry

  5. Bruce, your Time Traveler has stimulated much reflection. As I progress through this slow, slow recovery from spinal surgery; as I think about my present level of pain, as I think back to a time (actually, many years ago) when I was pain free, and as I try to imagine what the future may feel like, I can only imagine what that process must be for you.

    I just received a temporary handicap parking permit. We can now park in those blue spaces. I guess I’m dis-abled. It is easy for me to focus on the things I am unable to do-things that I love, things that I often use to define myself. I try to do a few small tasks to help bring some sense of normalcy. I chop some nuts for the granola; every Wednesday morning I wind great-grandmother’s clock, although it is painful (and I’m sure the Dr. would say “don’t do it”).

    Although I look forward to a good recovery, none of us really knows what’s at the other end of that tunnel, do we? Whether we are affected by dis-ease, or advancing age, or happenstance, we can’t know what the future will bring, and we can’t define ourselves by what we can or cannot do, or what we used to could do, but can no longer do. I must remember that, to those who love me, my disabilities don’t matter as much as the person I continue to be, and how I return their love.

    You must be sensing that I’m preaching to myself here, not you. You seem to be getting a pretty good handle on the situation-I very much admire you for it. At least, you’re talking about it, and you’re stimulating us to confront these issues also.

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

    Peace and love. Mike

  6. Romare Bearden was a fine artist who was also a musician. He handled his visual art as he did his jazz. The notes, colors and shapes were spectacular, but neither the art or the music can be fully appreciated without the rests.

    Take full and mindful rests.

  7. Long ago, a colleague shared his thoughts on aging in a presentation called Diminishment and Relinquishment that has always stuck with me. Your blog gives hope that I’ll have the guts and wisdom to relinquish with grace as needed–that we can rage yet savor what we have. Thanks.

  8. Dear Bruce,

    Once again I feel the need to respond to your insightful and lovely words that make me recognize thoughts and feelings that I own as well. When I was a teenager I was very fond of a boyfriend’s grandmother whose countenance reflected joy and gratitude in living. I vowed to myself that I was going to age in the same manner. I thank God that I am capable of living in the moment; may I be granted the grace to continue to do so.

    In gratitude for your wisdom,

  9. I am beginning to realize what an incredible person you really are.Thank you for sharing your reflections, thoughts, and insight.


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