Maybe it’s because of the new decade, or that I’ve been focused on other things.
Whatever the reason, the dawn of 2020 has left me stunned by the meteoric passage of time.
It seems just moments ago we were hailing a new millennium, the year 2000, amid fears the digital world would collapse around us. Young folks today may find it difficult to comprehend, but in the final days of 1999 we believed computer programs may not be able to handle the switch to the year 2000.
Would our power grids shut down, our financial records be frozen, or even worse? Those now-ancient fears were for naught – I well remember my Jan. 2, 2000, Page 1 The Bryan Times headline “Y2K A-OK” that received an Associated Press award. In my mind that scenario remains fresh indeed.
Many years ago I read a quotation to the effect that 20 years is a very brief span of time. It seemed a stretch to me then, but as I sit here today that truth has been driven home with force.
Last week I was watching the History Channel and a segment of the show dealt with the 1896 presidential election. That election holds special interest for me as President William McKinley, elected to office that year, is a distant relative.
McKinley’s administration seems like such a long time ago, but for some reason as I watched the show I did some mental calculations. I was shaken by the realization that a person born in 1896 was younger when I was born in 1957 than I am today.
At its most basic level the passage of time reminds us of our own mortality, the sands in our personal hourglass. Sooner or later we all are going to die. There is nothing we can do about that, except be aware of it and make the most of the time we have left.
None of us really have any idea when that end will come. Just after Christmas Diane came down to my office, visibly upset, to tell me our friend and former coworker Tammy Zedaker had died on Christmas Eve. We were shocked – we saw Tammy frequently and were in contact through social media, and we hadn’t even known she was ill.
Tammy was only 61 when she died after a very brief illness. She was less than a year younger than me.
Just after Tammy’s death I encountered a longtime friend I had not talked with for a few months, and he stunned me with the news that he had undergone quadruple heart bypass surgery only a few short weeks ago. His blocked arteries were discovered during a routine checkup, and hopefully he now has many more years ahead of him.
That same friend has for years shared with me a healthy realization of our mortality. He reminds me regularly that our lives are like a yardstick. The far end represents our birth, he says, and the other end our death. We are here, he notes, pointing to a spot much closer to 36 inches than to one inch, so we really need to focus on getting our projects done.
Such an appropriate analogy, and after speaking with him last weekend I realize its value even more.
My approach – and my advice – is not to be afraid of or paralyzed by our approaching end, but to be mindfully aware and be guided by that realization.
I don’t fully comprehend what the next chapter of our existence brings. My own journey has shown me clearly that our final breath on this earth is not the end, that more awaits us, and I am fortunate indeed to have been granted that understanding.
Not that I am in a rush to get there, though,
Last Sunday our minister Rachel spoke about the new year and the fact that we all will leave a legacy when we are gone. I have been blessed that my own life experience has led me to a comfortable place where death is concerned. I consider myself to be a very spiritual person, and for many years my legacy has been very much on my mind. Like most folks I am proud of many parts of my legacy, and wish I could go back and change other parts.
But we have no do-overs, only the chance to do better today and each of the days we still have left.
My wish is that we all come to a similar realization, in our own way and in a hopefully comforting way, and to make the best of what the rest of our lives have to offer.
Don Allison is an author, columnist and retired editor of The Bryan Times.