At the turn of a decade, I feel obligated to ask myself where the time has gone. It just vanished. One minute it was here, the next minute it wasn’t. Why is that? Why does everything seem like it was just yesterday? Why do I feel like I’m prematurely old, like I’ve time-traveled from twenty to thirty? Also, why can’t I grow a beard?
Here’s one thing I’ve learned in thirty years: time only slips by when we let it. Looking back on my life, the slowest moments were the ones I thought about the most, for better or worse. Thinking is the key to pausing the clock.
It worries me that my memory is foggy, or gone, of things that happened less than ten years ago. My wife will tell me a story from our trip home one summer, and I’ll have no idea what she’s talking about, like I’m hearing it for the first time, even though I’m one of the main characters. In my twenties, I got used to having my nose to the grindstone, so much so that a trip with my family was just another task on my list. I developed a habit of efficient thinking, sparing brain cells only for thoughts and ideas that helped me get something done.
This all changed in the middle of graduate school, the busiest years of my life. Three things happened: I camped, hiked, and spent more time with my family; I stopped watching TV every night; and I kept a journal. As a result, my life has more details, and I can actually remember them.
Life is like a book. If we never stop to think, it is gradually compressed into a few brief pages, an executive summary, and, looking back, that’s all we have to represent it. But as we ponder on our days, weeks, and years, simple experiences gain substance and value, life grows, and pages are filled. Reflecting on life is one of the secrets to making life full of memories and meaning.
But reflecting doesn’t mean just stopping to smell the roses; it means stopping to watch ourselves smell the roses; it’s not just lifting our gaze from the path that will fall under our next footstep and seeing the trail ahead; it’s stepping off the path to a different vantage point, one that reveals our last thousand footsteps and our next thousand, including our destination at the top of the mountain.
It’s not enough just to seize the day; any other life form can do that. When a dog escapes from the backyard, it holds nothing back, running, jumping, slobbering, wagging, living life to the fullest. Even dogs can seize the day. It’s not enough to squeeze our day for all it’s worth, if we don’t savor it, internalize it, understand it, remember it. Making time count involves using that thing which sets us apart from any other animal: reason, or critical thought.
After we make the most of our day, we have to make sense of our day. Then, we can learn from our mistakes and recognize and appreciate the roses or the inspiring vistas that we didn’t know were there. Not only will our story be full of details, but it will have a theme.
So, at the dawn of my fourth decade, I’m going to step back and reflect on where I’ve been, how I got here, and where I’m headed. What is my theme? And what will it be going forward?
The products of this reflection will appear here as soon as I have time to write about them. For now, I’ll share some advice, which, having completed my twenties, I now have the authority to do: take some time to think. Turn off the TV, or the computer, and talk over the day with a friend, or a child, or a spouse, or with yourself. Think into your journal, or in prayer. A decade from now, you might be glad you did.