Part of our common human nature is that we tend to think we have all the time in the world – and that throughout that time, we will be invincible. That may be how we see things, but it certainly does not reflect the reality.
Time is precious – and each of us has only a limited amount of it allocated to us. And it passes all too quickly, as most older people – and all those who are dying – will attest. They will probably also agree that in our time, we are far from invincible – on the contrary, we are as prone to illness, disease, deterioration and death as everyone else.
As a child, it seemed to me as though time passed so very slowly. The school year felt like it would never end. And then the summer holidays seemed to be interminable – six weeks felt more like six months. The distance between birthdays stretched out so that each one truly was an event when it finally came around. Even the time from breakfast till dinner seemed far greater than just several hours.
Now, from the perspective of a much older man, I smile at these memories and the innocence they display.
My mother always said that “time goes faster as you get older”. How right she was. How fast it is all going by now. And how I wish it wasn’t! In reality, I don’t actually mean that – all things have their time, their moment; and each moment is followed by the next (every more quickly, it seems) until finally the last one arrives. And at that point, we move out of time and into the great unknown of eternity.
John, a friend of mine, lost his wife several weeks ago. I suspect he might be the first to comment on the short distance between the first realisation that something wasn’t right, to that final moment where death arrives. Serious illness, I think, condenses time – at least in our perception of it. John says often that he cannot fathom the experience of those who do not have a faith to support and sustain them at such times – and I agree with him in this.
Faith does not remove the various pains and trials of life – but it does place them in their proper context. It also reminds us that all things pass – except eternity. And so, for the person of faith, we tend to always keep our gaze fixed forward, looking toward what lies beyond this present realm. The Church reminds us of this very powerfully each Lent, when ashes are placed upon our foreheads and we are told – “Remember you are dust; and to dust you will return”.
It’s a sobering thought.
It is intended to be.