Time is a river -- strong is its current
"Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away." SEmD Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. 121-180 AD
My sister Betty Jacobson phoned last week from her assisted-living apartment in Pauls Valley, Okla. She was exuberant.
A picture postcard with a 4-cent Abe Lincoln stamp had arrived at the still-current family business address where she once worked. It had been sent to her 46 years ago, with a photo of the insides of the Old Country Store Museum, Hereford, Pa.
In his best cursive, her son had written, "Mom, Hi. We've been having a great time, and this card is a picture of where we visited. It's real nice and the man told information on antiques. He said our old things we found like axes are worth lots of money. Love, Bert."
The card had been mailed from Bryan, Ohio, 43506 -- 560 miles on the way back home.
In January 1967, Bert's father, Gayle, and his uncle Dean had taken him and his cousin Terry on a train ride from the Sooner State to Pennsylvania. The quest was to buy two new ready-mix concrete trucks and drive them home. But first, there was an hour-and-a-half bus trip from Hereford to New York harbor to see the Statue of Liberty. It was a special time. Maybe, more than we commonly recognize, all times are.
That same January was our first Super Bowl. PBS-TV was brand new. That month, astronauts White, Grissom and Chaffee died in a pre-launch space-capsule fire. The Smothers Brothers were getting set to open on CBS. Vietnam war opposition was getting louder. And 13-year-old Bert Jacobson sent a postcard to his mom.
Dismiss it all as nostalgia if you want, but maybe we should pause more often to contemplate some of what we've seen, touched and tasted of this life -- perhaps to recover new significance in what passed so quickly or routinely that we hardly noticed. And now it's lain buried in our brains until poked with a long-lost postcard.
How did John Lennon put it in his song "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)," written to his 5-year-old son Sean, recorded in September 1980?
"I can hardly wait to see you come of age
But I guess we'll both just have to be patient
'Cause it's a long way to go. A hard row to hoe
... But in the meantime,
Before you cross the street, take my hand.
Life is what happens to you
While you're busy making other plans."
Just weeks later, on Dec. 9, 1980, Lennon was fatally shot four times in the back by a man for whom hours earlier he had graciously autographed an album.
Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic philosopher. Stoics believe having wisdom means living free of emotion, whether joy or sadness, and not ruled by pain or pleasure. Aurelius would not have advised wasting time in nostalgia. He wrote "bear in mind also that every man lives only in the present, which is an indivisible point and that all the rest of his life is either past or uncertain. Short then, is the time which any man lives."
Live, he counseled, in the now.
We find stoicism also in Ecclesiastes, an Old Testament book often attributed to the wise King Solomon but probably wrongly so. The passage most are familiar with -- especially at funerals -- begins "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die." A more modern expression might be, "We can't escape the realities of time. Be wise and accept them."
The Stoics advise us not to sweat the small stuff. But other philosophers tell us life is more about the small stuff than we appreciate -- things that in our busyness, too easily escape our attention. And the curtain falls while we're making other plans.
Well, nostalgia isn't quite the right word. Nostalgia implies not just an understanding and appreciation of previous experiences, but a sentimental wish to relive them. It's reflection or reconsideration we want. That's not a waste of time if it calls us to more thoughtful living in the now.
In the case of a 46-year-old postcard miraculously coming to light, we can all be reminded of the undying love between parents and kids and shout hallelujah. And we can lift a Lenten prayer for love waiting to be rediscovered.
Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.