Diane's Voice

This Time

I’m writing this looking at the crown of my daughter’s head as she sleeps on the living room couch next to the recliner where I do a lot of my work these days. The couch and the recliner used to be my father-in-law’s; when he passed away in September, we decided to get rid of our living room furniture and take his. It fits our home better, and we get to keep a part of him with us this way.

Bethany got home from college last night around 11:30 pm. She had packed up her stuff, her boyfriend packed up his, and they drove home. She did this all by herself. I never doubted she would, or that she could, but I’m still amazed that she did. The dorm room we so hastily but lovingly decorated in August is now being turned over to someone else. She’ll be in the same building, but a different room with a different roommate next year.

When we dropped her off in August my father-in-law was still alive, living 10 houses down the block. I was about to start a full-time job covering a maternity leave in my daughters’ high school’s English department and wondering if I could manage the relentless schedule of high-school teaching. My younger daughter was starting her Junior year with two AP classes and everything else in honors, looming college applications on her mind. My husband was bemoaning the stress of his seemingly endless work.

Now, Bethany is home. My father-in-law’s house belongs to someone else, and his belongings (with the exception of about 10 boxes of memories in our office) are dispersed. My full-time temporary job has morphed into a part-time steady job (I guess I did well enough that I’m welcome to keep teaching, and the part-time schedule gives me my much beloved flexibility). My younger daughter is almost done with her junior year. My husband has entered Phase 1 retirement. How much changes in a year.

Yet how much stays the same. I remember watching my daughter sleep when she was a baby, and how those moments of peace infused me with warmth, love, and the feeling that having this person in my life was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Looking at her now, I am overcome by those same feelings. The stress my younger daughter has experienced in her junior year so resembles mine at her age that it’s like I’m re-living high school. Fortunately, she’s dealing with it all better than I ever did. My husband, now that he is free from his daily job stress, is reminding me so much of the young doctor I married–the man who cared about his patients rather than worried about keeping a practice afloat. I am more myself than I’ve been in a very long time. I love teaching, I love my students, I love writing . . . and I’m doing an okay job of it all.

My very first year in college I wrote an essay about how much I feared change. It was published in the university’s first-year-writing magazine, which was used by the next year’s classes as writing to critique. It wasn’t a perfect essay by any means, in much the same way my blog posts are far from perfect, but it was based on the personal experience of me crying every time I had a substitute teacher in grade school. I chalked that emotional outburst up to my fear of change. While I still think that’s true, I would now go back and revise it to say that my fear was of sudden, unpredictable change. As I’ve grown, though I still don’t like change, I’ve come to accept that it’s a constant–indeed, the only thing we can truly rely on is that nothing will ever be the same for very long.

And of course, like most things, the inexorable passage of time is both a blessing and a curse. Whenever my children are in a stressful situation, we use the mantra “10 hours, 10 days, 10 weeks, 10 months, 10 years.” Everything that is stressing us out right now will definitely be a distant blip of a memory in 10 years. It may be a joke in 10 months. It will undoubtedly be resolved in 10 weeks and may even be fixed in 10 days. That is the blessing of change. No situation lasts forever.

The curse of change is that same impermanence. Whether it’s a moment in time, a stage of life, or a person’s existence, nothing lasts forever. I miss my father-in-law. He passed suddenly in mid-September, just as my daughter had started to adjust to college and I was getting into the swing of work. My husband took care of everything with his brother in a matter of weeks, but I was working so hard I could barely tune in. Now that my year is over, I’m looking around the house and seeing these little reminders of him and I can’t believe he’s gone. It happened in such a flash that I don’t think I’ve fully had the time to process it. Some of it feels like a fever-dream.

At the same time, my mind is not in despair. I’m not in deep grief. My mind is not in a fog. The clear, recurring thought is what a blessing it was to have him in my life for as long as I did. I met him when I was 17; he became my father-in-law when I was 22. He made me stop referring to him that way a few years later–“I don’t call you my daughter-in-law any more,” he said. “You’re just my daughter. And you always will be. So you can just say I’m your dad if you want.” I was 50 when died at 91, which means I had a wonderful dad for 33 years. As I grew up without my biological father in my life, my father-in-law’s presence in my life was a grace–a gift I was given that I could never have earned, and I could never repay.

Before my father-in-law died he told my husband, “John, I’m so happy you moved me down here to Florida. I have had the best life. I have great friends; I have beautiful days. Always know how grateful I am to you and Diane for all the care you’ve given me. I could not have asked for better.” I don’t know why he said that, but I do know that for the past few years he always took time to tell us how happy he was and what a good life he lived. I think he saw every day as an unexpected gift, and never wanted to go to bed leaving anything unsaid. He knew we loved him, and we knew he loved us. We knew we were grateful for each other. When I found out he had passed away, my first thought was, “I didn’t get to say good-bye.” My second thought was, “We said good-bye every day, because we knew the next was never guaranteed. It’s okay. He knew you loved him. What more is there to say?”

In the end, there truly is nothing more to say. To love and be loved is the greatest of all gifts. It may be the only thing on earth that is not subject to the inexorable passage of time. Love is forever. And that’s why we always say that God is love. It is timeless, it is eternal, and it is the only thing that sustains. For all the things that may change, true love is constant. I will love my daughters until the day I am no longer conscious of myself; the same for my mother, husband, father-in-law, family, and friends. God-willing, that day will never come, because even when I pass away I hope to still be my conscious self in the afterlife. But even if there is an end to myself as a conscious being, I hope that the love I put out into the world continues to circulate, to touch other people, to encourage them to live a life of charity and true love for others–because that is the only thing that lasts, and the only thing that has the power to change the world.

St. Paul said, “Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

And so every day when I wake up, I remind myself to try to act always out of love. At the end of the day, as I meditate, I ask myself if all my actions have been taken with love at the top of my mind. I have my good days and my bad days, days where I am more or less loving, but I always have that goal in mind because it is the only thing that has conquered my lifelong fear of change. To live in love is, in many ways, to touch eternity–a never-ending cycle of giving and receiving that feels certain, sure, and full of peace.

1 reply »

  1. As the late, great David Crosby sang, “Time is the final currency.” Thank you for a lovely essay about the best way to share it. And thank you for the gift of your friendship.


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