“This is taking forever,” my surly 17-year-old complained as we sat in the drive-thru line of his favorite fast food restaurant. I looked at my watch. It had been six minutes. “I hate this algebra module. It takes forever to finish,” he said a few days later. I checked the parent portal (something virtual-schooling parents have learned these days). He had been working for 45 minutes.
“They might delay our basketball season until after Christmas,” he reported this week. He followed by saying: “God, that’s forever!” I checked my mental calendar. No, that is only three or so more months. Is my teenager impatient? Of course he is! Aren’t they all? Does he use the word “forever” in its most metaphorical way, devoid of literal meaning? Of course he does! Don’t we all?
James Joyce pointed his readers to the sand along the seashore. “Imagine a mountain of sand,” he said, “a million miles high, a million miles wide, and a million miles thick. Imagine that every one million years a little bird came to that mountain and carried away in its beak one tiny grain of sand. How many millions upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird even carried away a single square foot of that mountain?”
Joyce, continuing with his Irish eloquence, wrote: “If that mountain rose again, after it had been carried away grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, and drops of water in the sea…at the end of all that rising and sinking…not even one single instant of eternity could be said to have passed…Forever makes the brain reel.”
I told Joyce’s parable to my son after his last citation of “forever,” and reminded him that his waiting certainly wouldn’t take an eternity. The point was lost on him, so I hope that you, dear reader, respond more eagerly than a sullen 17-year-old.
The truth is, everyone has to wait: In expectation, in dread, by choice, and sometimes we are forced to wait against our will. We wait to be reunited, wait on a pathology report, wait for a wayward child to find her way, and most recently the waiting is especially torturous, as these Covid-Months are something akin to Dog Years – only longer.
And while we wait, the days do not. The sands of time move, not by the beak of Joyce’s little bird, but steadily and irreversibly through the hourglass of life. Thus, we have a choice: Sit and sourly watch the grains fall away until some yearned-for date on the calendar finally arrives, or get busy living while waiting.
See, life isn’t lived somewhere in the future. Life is lived today, in all those humdrum but holy moments that happen while you are waiting for something else. You best get busy with the living part, because you don’t have forever to wait.