I have a distinct memory from a New Year’s Eve party. It was 1980, and I was at my aunt and uncle’s house. It was bone-chillingly cold. All the Christmas decorations were still up. Dick Clark was rocking on the living room television, and I was in a back room playing Space Invaders on an Atari. I didn’t own an Atari myself, so this was my first experience with the magical machine.
Consequently, when the clock struck midnight, “Auld Lang Syne” came bellowing from my uncle’s baritone lungs, and 1981 was born, I paused only for a moment to glance at the grandfather clock down the hall. Then I returned to the game and that nerve-wracking synthesizer music, as those other-worldly attackers descended on my tiny spaceship.
Looking back, that night seems both like it was an eternity ago, and as if it happened just last night. That is the paradox of time I suppose: It passes so slowly, but simultaneously “is as a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away,” as the New Testament says. With another New Year now a reality, the paradox will continue.
Wasn’t the Mueller Report two years ago? No, that was 2019. And that college admissions scandal? That was in like 2016, right? No, that was 2019 as well. The fire at Notre Dame? The ravaging of the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian? The release of “Avengers: Endgame?” The arrest and death of Jeffrey Epstein? All of these happened in the previous year, though at our news cycle’s pace, they all seem like events from a decade ago.
Look closer to home. It was just last year that your daughter started walking. Tomorrow she will be leaving for college. It was in 2019, that you took that new job. In a few days you will be planning your impending retirement. Months ago your grandson was on FaceTime with you, making funny faces and telling you stories about his soccer game. Next week he will be getting married and starting his own family.
I was blasting away at those Space Invaders just yesterday, yesterday I tell you. And now, my high cholesterol is a bigger concern than any imagined extraterrestrial threat; I have fewer years to live than the years already passed; my new AARP card has arrived in the mail; and I catch myself glancing at the grandfather clock down the hall, absolutely beleaguered that time moves at such incredible speed.
Beleaguered? Yes. Saddened? No. Mostly, it’s wonder that I feel. Wonder that I’m still alive. Wonder that I have been gifted with more love and grace than any man deserves. Wonder that beneath my ever-silvering head of hair, there is the mind of that young boy who still loves playing the game. Einstein said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder, is as good as dead.” Wonder, my friends, wonder. It’s the only way to stay alive for the few years you have to live.