On the occasion of my youngest child’s 20th birthday I am thinking about finiteness again. I don’t mean the finiteness of the three score and 10 accorded us, although I do muse on that subject also, and the more so as I am now out of the “three score” part and into the “and 10.”
No, what is acute again in me, and what I want to share with young readers who may not know (as I did not) this very basic math: “There is a finite number of rainbows that you will see in your lifetime, a finite number of full moons—and surprisingly few after all. A finite number of times you will walk into your husband’s study and choose to stop and say ‘I love you,’ or just brush past for the book you were after.”
I am quoting myself here, which is gauche. It was 2000 and my husband had died a year before, and I was appalled at the things I had never said, or done.
But now my last toe in teenageland has betrayed me for twentysomething adulthood. And where did the time go? I remember the Christmas when my daughter and I bought a tree, and I hauled out all the trimmings and set her up on a straight-backed chair and promised I would be back in a minute to help her hang ornaments. I fully intended to, really, but couldn’t resist tidying up in the kitchen first. Before I was aware of the passage of time, my daughter came into the kitchen with disappointment written in her face and said, “Mommy, I had to decorate the tree all by myself.”
The funny thing is (not really funny), I don’t have distinct Christmas tree decorating memories from any other year; they are all a blur. Who would have thought that an event—or nonevent—of an hour’s duration would be etched in indelible ink hereafter, forever in her mind and mine?
Let us not be depressed about this: Many a time we miss the boat that’s here while mourning the boat that’s gone. The apostle Paul wrote:
“… one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on …” (Philippians 3:13-14).
I believe he really kept that resolution. And so can I, and so can you.
The doable moral of the story is to begin today to reckon with finiteness and to live wisely. Something you thought inconsequential—a warm smile every day that your child walks through the door after school—will be the lingering impression when you are long gone from this world. If you doubt me, here’s an exercise: Think back to your own mother. When you conjure her image, do you picture her smiling or scowling? Did she know the scowl would be her legacy? No. Did she know the smile would be her legacy? Perhaps. If she was wise.
You have opportunities to create a sunny memory of your child’s growing up years—but only a finite number of opportunities. Then one day she will be 20, and you either repent or rejoice. Choose rejoicing.