1914. 1934. 1936. 1964. 1965. 1966. 1967. 1968. 1999. 2001. 2004. 2014. 2018. 2021. 2022.
Dates. Years. Some mark beginnings. Others mark endings. They are the markers of time. The markers of life. Over the span of the century which they represent, there have been two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, men on the Moon, men and women working to reach Mars, cars, air travel, cures to some diseases, computers, smart phones… and life. They are the alchemy of time. We are the alchemy of time.
“Time is now both our friend and enemy. Our enemy, because it is fixed with the many but ultimately finite memories of you. Our friend, because pain will heal in some and will ease in others. But Time cannot answer the question of ‘What now?’ Your life is the answer.“
Out of respect for the privacy of the family that wrote these words, I can not fully explain the numerous thin places that led me to reading them in the first place. However, they capture the essence of time. And life. Time is indeed both our enemy and our friend. (A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds – the worlds are fused together, knitted loosely where the differences can be discerned or tightly where the two worlds become one. Thin places aren’t perceived with the five senses. Experiencing them goes beyond those limits.)
This past Friday I stood behind a pulpit at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, NC. Reflecting on time and love. And my mom. 1936. 2022. After a beautiful eulogy and stories from my sister (1967), I reflected on time. And love. We had been here as a family at St. John’s twice before. 1914. 2001. 1934. 2018. More dates. More time. More love. In between all these dates, we created memories. Our own memories. And shared memories. I noted from the pulpit that there is never enough time, but there is always enough love. As my own son (1999) reflected at his senior homily at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, “love doesn’t have a size. It is neither big or small.” The beautiful thing about love is that when you share it, you create more of it. You can’t create more time, though. Or can you? Is there an alchemy of time?
On the one hand, time is indeed fixed. There are beginnings, and there are ends. To life. But there is no beginning to love, and there is no end to love. “Time cannot answer the question of ‘what now?’” Our “lives are (indeed) the answer.” This is where the alchemy begins. What is alchemy?
1 : a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life.
Is it really about prolonging life, though? Would I do anything for another day, more time, with #theloveofmylife, Maureen (1964. 2014.) Of course I would. However, through the power of love, I truly believe that there is an alchemy of time. Can I still hug Maureen physically? No. Could she be with her sisters (1966. 1968.) at her father’s celebration of life this past Saturday (1936. 2021.)? No. But was she there? Was her love there? Yes. It was. The priest celebrating the Mass reflected on it. Reflected on his time with Maureen’s dad in his final days. He spoke of Maureen. He spoke of heaven. He spoke of love. Is there an alchemy of time? I think there is. Because Maureen’s father, Henry, exuded love. His love can be seen not just in his own family but in his grandchildren and all those whose lives crossed with his. You could see the power of love in Charlotte, too, in the stories from my sister and I about our mom and all those who came together in the pews to reflect together. At a moment in time.
Moments in time. My grandmother’s passing in 2001. Maureen’s passing in 2014. My father’s passing in 2018. My father-in-law’s passing in 2021. My mom’s passing as 2022 began. These are fixed moments in time. However, there are other moments in time that are briefer and shorter. Flashes of connection that are as important as any other. One of those thin places, like the one at Stouthaus Coffee and Pub, which I wrote about many years ago in “Can You Imagine,” happened again at the Dulles airport outside of DC on Katelyn (2004) and my way home on Sunday from the Celebrations of Life for my mom on Friday and my father-in-law on Saturday. I had walked to Starbucks in Terminal C to get a coffee for me and a passion tea for Katelyn. As my kids know, I will talk to anyone, and so I started talking to the lady behind me in line. She was returning to Charleston from a weekend retreat at Divine Mercy University (DMU) in Sterling, VA.
How do I know this brief conversation was a thin place? Our conversation was part of the clue. She knew of St. Gregory the Great where we had just celebrated the life of my father-in-law. Her Benedictine cross on her necklace was another. However, the other clue was on the back of the card she handed me from DMU. It noted the date of the blessing of the grotto to the Blessed Virgin Mary at DMU. August 21, 2021. For those that know, 21 is a thin place, a way for Maureen, my “tuning fork” in heaven to reach out. She had passed of metatstatic breast cancer on October 21, 2014. As we spoke in line, I was certain there was also a deeper clue in the Benedictine cross. And sitting here at Civil Goat this morning, that connection is made clear, reading the words of a blog post I wrote 5 years ago about “time loops”:
On this coin is an image of St. Peregrine. Peregrine is from the famous Laziosi family in Italy, passed in 1345, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726. He was sainted by Pope Benedict because in 1325, after a vision of Christ, Peregrine was cured of cancer. To this day, Peregrine is the patron saint of cancer patients.
400 years after the passing of St. Peregrine, St. Benedict canonizes his life. Five years after writing a blog post about Peregrine and Benedict, I stand in a line at Starbucks. At an airport. 87 years after her birth, we bear witness to the love, and life, of my grandmother. Almost four years to the day of sprinkling my father’s ashes, we sprinkled my mom’s. And, just over 7 years after the passing of his eldest daughter, my father-in-law joined his Maureen and all the others that preceded them in heaven.
We can’t change time, but we can change what we do with it. Our lives are the answer. Love is the ultimate alchemy of time.