Have you ever felt sadness or loss over the passage of time? I’m sitting here with both hands raised, nodding emphatically (and I may or may not be reaching into my sleeve for a Kleenex like a 90-year-old, but I digress). Sometimes life brings us the most beautiful phases and feeling them slip into the past can be so stinking depressing. But I’m learning that it really doesn’t have to be. It all depends on how we take in this awesome, impermanent life.
Let’s switch gears for a sec and look at a scene from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
When Frodo wouldn’t let go
Frodo the hobbit, played by Elijah Wood and his soul-piercing baby blues, is entrusted with the vital task of destroying the supreme ring of power. Sam, Frodo’s bosom buddy, accompanies him on this extreme venture as a sort of assistant.
Finally, the two hobbits have arrived at the fiery peak of Mount Doom where Frodo is supposed to drop the ring off a cliff to be swallowed by the vicious river of lava below. But he hesitates and instead, admiringly holds the ring in front of his face for a moment, captivated by its magnificence.
“What are you waiting for?!” Sam cries desperately from behind him. “Just let it go!”
But Frodo can’t. He fixes his gaze upon the glimmering band for a moment, turns and looks at poor, sweet Sam and declares, “The ring is mine.” Then he slips it onto his finger and disappears into invisibility.
The scene’s takeaway
I’m no LOTR expert. Someone else — someone fluent in Elvish — could provide a far more thorough explanation of what happened on Mount Doom. But in my very basic comprehension of this classic, here’s what I think happens: Frodo forgets he’s on a journey.
He forgets that making it home to the shire is his ultimate goal, and instead becomes captivated by the glimmer of something he was only meant to encounter temporarily. And this is something we all do all too often. We see the grandness and gladness surrounding us and get distracted from the fact that, when it’s all said done, we’re not here to stay.
Don’t worry. I’m not about to launch into a somber “it’s a rough life but all’s well, folks, because heaven awaits!” tirade. There is so much more to it than that.
When time’s passage hits me hardest
Every time I have a baby, I’m powerfully reminded of this life’s impermanence. Despite my profound relief over the end of pregnancy and sudden infatuation for a new little cuddleball, I enter a period of sadness over the passage of time.
When older people now graduated from the days of parenting little ones see my children and remark, “It goes by so fast,” it aggravates me. No one is more aware of the seeming rapidity of time’s passage than I am, especially during the postpartum period. That sense of losing time once it’s behind me has had me sobbing harder than dying-dog movies do.
Before I know it, my kids will no longer be the noisy, needy, kissable little beings surrounding me day after day. Time marches on, as my elderly neighbor once wistfully said. It totally does. There’s no stopping it.
This was a major component of the postpartum depression I went through after my first baby. In realizing so tangibly that all beautiful things – the bliss of a first baby, newborn snuggles, her tiny snores on my husband’s chest – must come to an end, I was overcome with grief.
Time really is the greatest obstacle in the world to happiness, not only because it makes you take pleasures successively, but also because you are never really happy until you are unconscious of the passing of time. (Venerable Fulton Sheen)
It will only get better
It was amid that postpartum depression that I once found myself oddly uplifted by five little words. It will only get better. Here’s how it happened: As brand new parents, my husband and I were finally out on a date night without our newborn snoozing in the car seat at our feet. We were sipping cocktails downtown when I noticed the couple at the table beside us scrolling through pictures of their toddler. “I love her so much,” the mother gushed. “She’s at such a fun age.”
I braced myself for what I thought was an inevitable I wish I could freeze time follow-up comment. Instead, this woman declared with a soft and cheerful smile, “It will only get better, you know.” I was astounded.
It was the most optimistic parenthood perspective I’d ever heard. There I was, several months postpartum in the thick of mourning time’s too-rapid passage, feeling crushed by motherhood yet somehow simultaneously wishing I could keep my baby a baby forever. This mother, however, was beautifully embracing the growing process, anticipating all the blissful moments that lay ahead instead of grieving those she was leaving behind.
It dawned on me that by dreading time’s passage, I was failing to flow through this life the way we are meant to: as pilgrims on a journey. If we let them, every passing moment can carry us deeper into the adventure and closer to our destination. The passage of time isn’t something we ought to dread. Instead, it’s literally the road upon which we travel home, much like Frodo and Sam were ultimately heading back to the shire.
However, judging from the material world, it’s tough to adopt an “it will only get better” perspective when old age, declining health and loss of our loved ones are all inevitable. This is why when we put our hope in the things of this world, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. As St. Paul advised the Corinthians,
We look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
What is unseen. That’s the key. Paul is touching on the reality that beyond this impermanent, material world where we dwell as detainees, there is so much more. In fact, Larry Baumann, author of The Excitement of the Spiritual Life, writes that this physical world we are confined to is a mere “speck of dust” compared to the immensity and eternity of the spiritual realm. And this is where the drastic significance of our souls enters the scene.
You stretch way beyond your body
Sadly, society is under the illusion that if we have souls at all, they’re trivial accessories that don’t matter as much as our bodies. But I think Jim Carrey summed it up pretty brilliantly when he said, “My soul is not contained within the limits of my body; my body is contained within the limitlessness of my soul.”
Our souls are the eternal components of our beings that stretch beyond material confinement into the abyss of eternity. The Catechism defines a soul as “the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image.” My decision to nurture or neglect my soul has a tremendous impact on how I feel about my journey through this world. If I am gracefully in touch with that eternal component of my being, caring for and cherishing it, then it’s easy to be at peace with the fact that I’m a pilgrim in this life and time will one day whisk me home. It’s easy to believe that no matter what, it will only get better.
Nothing is lost
Nonetheless, we can’t escape the fact that there seems to be so much we lose through time’s passage. We lose our babies when they become children and then we lose our children when they become adults. We lose our youth and vitality through the aging process. The list goes on.
But once again, faith helps us out here. In his book All Things New, John Eldredge describes being on the verge of an emotional outpouring at his youngest son’s high school graduation. As he bid goodbye to his last child’s childhood, he asked Jesus, “How is this not just loss? … Tell me – how is everything not just loss?”
And then Jesus replied to Eldredge with words that bring me so much comfort whenever time’s passage depresses me. He said, “Oh, John. Nothing is lost.” The author goes on to explain that all of our most precious moments, memories, events, and stories “are held safe in the heart of the infinite God, who encompasses all things. Held safe outside of time in the treasuries of the kingdom … [it]will all be given back to [us]at the Restoration.”
So you see, mama, time’s passage doesn’t command us to say goodbye to the beauties of this life, but only, see you later. Meanwhile, it’s carrying us so tenderly home.
Copyright 2020 Elizabeth Pardi