During my senior year in high school, I had a small part in the school play, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. My role was of the scandalous secretary who was presumably having an affair with her boss. I wore a tiny off the shoulder black dress and slung my waist-length hair around with a flick of my wrist while hinting to the more dutiful office employee about my clandestine relations. That was almost 30 years ago and the only flicking of the wrists I do now is after washing my hands in the kitchen sink when I’m too hurried to use a dishtowel.
Unlike my children’s lives, mine isn’t particularly well-documented so when I came across an old VCR tape of the school play, I thought it would be fun to transfer it to DVD. The decades-old recording had aged much like the cast of characters it chronicled. Faces were a blur and I had to rely on sound more than sight to distinguish fellow classmates. It’s odd to think back that far, at how young we were, how sure we were, and how unsure we were. Dizzy hopes for the future dangled like a cliffhanger in the drama of our own lives. One of the boys who had a leading role in the play passed away last year. His grainy silhouette was punctuated by the boom of his voice. His animated gestures and rhythmic inflections belied the premature hush that came upon his life. It made me sad.
When I was 17, I didn’t think of all the hard things that happen in life. I didn’t think about cancer, or addiction, miscarriages or infertility, suicide or loneliness. I didn’t consider how hard life could be. I just saw an empty stage with endless possibilities. Plenty of time for laughter, love, and happy endings. As naïve as I may have been, I wish I still believed this – that time and possibilities are infinite. Instead what I know is more precious. Life is fleeting and quick like the blink of a firefly on a summer night. It sparkles and dances and sometimes burns too quickly. It’s a chance to spread love, make things better, and embrace gratitude as our truest friend. It can be gritty and gruesome and flat-out heartbreaking. It requires the grace of forgiveness and the resilience of starting again. It isn’t so much about making a mark as it is making life better or at least more bearable for someone else. It isn’t how big your part is that matters, only that you are willing to play a part in making the whole of humanity better.
What I know now isn’t as shiny as what I knew then. I wish I could see more clearly the faces of the past, but it wouldn’t change anything. There are no time machines and the only truly happy endings I know are preceded by the sorrow of death. Still, the future, what time it holds, is precious. All you have to do is act.
Life is short sweet friend. It’s easy to think we have to have a starring role to make a difference in this world but any kindness — any act of love will always take center stage. How will you shine today? What’s the best way you can spend time?
In memory of David Caldwell, Class of 1990.
Read last week’s post here: Brave: Beyond Rollercoasters and Roaches