Friday, June 22, 2007

The Relentless March of Time

A little more than a week ago I was told that Marjorie, my stepfather's mother had passed away at the age of 89. I wouldn't say that we were extremely close, but she was nonetheless part of the tapestry of my life, having lived in a unit next to my parent's house for the last twelve years of her life. This was especially true during my teenage years when I lived in the house. And so, when I received the news last Friday morning, something had irrevocably changed. Marjorie, who I say to my shame I often took for granted was no longer with us. As is my wont, I began to think.
As I travelled down the stairs from Clarence Street to Wynyard Station, I looked at the people I was passing in a completely different manner. I passed men and women around my age, some slightly older, some slightly younger. Many of them exuded beauty and youth and I thought about what it meant that I knew this would change. All of them would grow grey or lose their hair, gain weight and gain wrinkles, lose their strength and their vitality. This too would happen to me. Time is a mistress that stops for no-one.
Perhaps more significant than the change in our bodies is the way we change as people. If somebody had told me about the type of person that I would become five years ago, I would scarcely have believed them. And in five years time, I will quite likely be a different person again. Sometimes I wonder what kind of relationship the person I am today has to the person I was five, ten or fifteen years ago. I'm sure there's some kind of connection there, but there are times when I struggle to work out exactly what that connection might be. As I sit here thinking, I recognise that the only thing that is timeless is time and the only thing that doesn't change is that things change. Perhaps it is futile trying to grasp onto past, present or future because none of it is permanent. It is as T.S. Eliot wrote:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

Perhaps that's what made going to Marje's funeral so strange for me. First of all, the funeral was held at Green Point Baptist Church - the Church where in many ways, my spiritual journey began. It was quite surreal bumping into people who knew me as a ten year-old, because as they spoke to me there was a clear fracture between time present and time past. Many of these people knew the person I was back then, but not the person I am today. This was so clearly demonstrated when they made mention of the fact that I had grown so much. They didn't know the half of it. Meeting with these people after all these years was like meeting them for the first time.

I wonder, am I who I am, or am I what people make of me? At the funeral, each of Marje's four living sons gave a eulogy about their mother. Each of them remembered and treasured different things about her. Perhaps in a way Marje was four different people to four different people and yet at the same time one and the same? Simultaneously she was a mother and a daughter, a wife and a friend. How do we transcend these different understandings except to say that Marje was ultimately who she understood herself to be and who she was held to be by God, which in some way means that there is an element about her which remains elusive to others and even to herself? And this is true of all of us - our true persona remains an enigma and there is this perpetual fracture between who we really are and who we believe ourselves to be. Indeed, as soon as we believe that we know ourselves, we change and thus we return to darkness.

After the funeral we travelled down to Rookwood cemetary to bury her at her final resting place, alongside her husband of 57 years and one of her sons who had passed away more than fifty years ago, aged just seventeen months. As we said our goodbyes and lowered her into the depths of the earth, the sun appeared from the clouds and above the small tree behind her burial site. In a way, it was a sign that this was a new beginning. But this beginning would be timeless and changeless. Marje is now in a place where she will not grow old, nor weary, nor decay. She is finally in a place where she may perfectly know and be known.

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