We just dropped off our twenty-year-old son at the airport. He is so, well, twenty. After raising two boys to manhood, I know that Kahlil Gibran was probably right: Our children are only on loan to us.
I had heard it, but I didn’t have a clue of what that meant. When they were little, I fooled myself into thinking they were mine. But now I’m not so sure they ever were. Yes, they pretty much did what they were told—most of the time— because they didn’t know any better. However, those times didn’t last. And the boys often made their own decisions and mistakes, because that’s how they grew up. Childhood is temporary, as are many other things. The speed of our children’s progression to adulthood from the womb makes my head spin. Why is this?
If our children are on loan and temporary, then so are marriage (‘til death or divorce do us part), our age, our highs, and lows. The seasons come and go. Winter fades to spring, which yields to summer and on to fall. There is no constancy in life except the fluidity of movement of one moment to the next. There is never a time when everything comes to a screeching halt. Never. The idea of it is so unfathomable to humankind, that most religions have an afterlife. Good or bad, heaven or hell, it’s a continuation of now into the future. We are almost never here and now, because now is like a freight train with “then” before it and “someday” after it, and “here” lasts only until that freight train leaves the station.
That means that there is no real past when you’re in the present. We cannot retrieve our children as they once were. We cannot ever again feel them inside our bodies, in our arms, or on our backs. That was temporary—a phase that is no more. I am convinced of the temporary nature of the past. Why, then, can I not see that the future is a fleeting, unattainable bundle? How insane am I that I do not see this? We project forward as if there were a way to control the future. There is none. We prepare for the future, we save, we worry; we think we can control outcomes, but alas, the future has no bearing on the present. It will be what it will be. That does not mean we don’t try to achieve our goals. No, rather, it means we try to plan our lives so that we must live only in the present knowing that any other form of living must negate the thing of life itself. It is so rudimentary but almost impossible: many people spend more time outside of now than in, and it is no wonder that the passage of time blurs on its way through life’s train station.
If there is no “present thread” (maybe because it is invisible) holding this day together, then it pulls apart, like a sweater unraveling, and the fabric we think we’re wearing is naught but a tangle of yarn on our mind’s floor.
Because life is temporary, my kids are on loan, my mom, brother, and spouse are fleeting, and everything is but a smearing of consciousness. I must stop. I should grab the hands on the life’s clock, hold onto them like the devil, and slow them way down as if my life depended on it. Why? Because it does. It just does.
Kathryn Atkins 2006