I heard my mother say these words many times when she was in her seventies and eighties. She was looking back on her life and couldn’t believe she had reached this age. When I heard her say these words, I would pat her on the back and say something inane like, “Oh, Mom, you’ve still got plenty of time left.”
But now, in my seventies, I understand. She wasn’t thinking so much about the end of her life as she was about the rush of the years gone by. They had passed so quickly, too quickly. And now I’m asking that very question: Where has the time gone? Why hadn’t I paid more attention to each event? Why hadn’t I savored every moment?
These thoughts came to me because we are spending two weeks in Upstate New York in a condo on one of the Finger Lakes. I look out our window and see this beautiful expanse of water, dotted by swimmers, boats and kayaks and think about my childhood summers. We had a cottage on a small lake in Northern Minnesota. Every chilly morning I would dress in layers, beginning with my swimming suit; then a t-shirt and jeans, followed by a sweatshirt pulled over my head. As the morning wore on and the temperature came up, the layers would come off until I was back down to the swimming suit. Then I would plunge into the lake, swimming with the joy of summer and youth.
But those days passed too quickly and I reached junior high and adolescence. My family became less important than my friends and the lake was not fun unless a friend came along. Boys and parties, football games and dances, clothes and girl-friends took precedence. The angst of beginning the journey to adulthood and dealing with new emotions colored every event. The future was like a cloud in the sky, shifting each day into another shape.
When high school was finished, college began. I moved into a dormitory, away from my family, and made new friends. For two summers, I worked as a counselor at summer camps and when the sessions ended, I found even a few short weeks at home before school began were too much. My most important work during these years (besides studying) was to choose a major and a direction for my life but these decisions were elusive. One minute I was certain of my future; the next second everything had changed. In my junior year, I met a special young man and a large part of my future was decided.
The next thirty years went on forever and were over much too quickly. We raised three children and moved more than ten times. I continued to vacillate between professions, moving from nursery school teacher to journalism and finally into communications and public relations, with newspaper writing on the side. Our children grew up and left home and suddenly, we were back to the beginning.
When I think of those years now, the busiest time of my life and perhaps the most important, they feel like hundreds of puzzle pieces spread on the table with part of an event here and another piece of it over there. It would take me another lifetime to put them in the proper order.
Now we are retired and finding new challenges and activities, enjoying time with friends and reading books we never had time to before. However, sometimes I wonder: why didn’t I pay more attention at each stage, carefully placing every memory into a special file where I could revisit it any time I felt like it and say to myself, “Ah yes. That’s where the time went. I remember that.”
But in a way, I do have that file. I have my own memories plus the memories my husband, my brother and my three adult children share with me. I even have the newest memories made this past week when both of our daughters and our granddaughter joined us at the lake. Yes, the time went fast and yes, I wish I had savored more of it, but then, that’s life. I don’t know if you can fully live each moment if you spend all your time worrying about how fast it is passing. Because, the bottom line is we are, even in our 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, still living every day and still making new memories. So, I expect that, even twenty years from now, I’ll still be saying, “Where has the time gone!” At least, I hope so.