Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Time and Light

We mark time, don't we?  We mark it and measure it, witness and remember.

“How many sleeps, Mommy?”  This from my son, when he was young- too young- to understand divisions of time smaller than a sleep.  It was a time when "Five Minutes" meant "some Time not now."

When, Mommy?  When?
Five minutes, baby. 
It could have been five minutes, five hours, five weeks- it never mattered.  It was an acknowledgement that there was a Now and a Not Now.

We still measured it, that Not Now, still marked its passage in some way.  Six sleeps until we go to the zoo.  Until Chanukah.  Until your birthday.  Until...  It was time, marked and measured.  And seemingly, in a moment, sleeps became days, became weeks or months.  He could live in those bigger divisions, feel the passage of time differently.  I miss the grand and easy sweep of time, as much as I miss counting those sleeps.

Milestones.  They are the remembered days, the points that mark the linear drift of our lives, the divisions of time that don't fit inside a watch, and barely fit inside a calendar. They are witnessed and measured, because it matters- desperately matters- upon which side of those milestones we stand.

Before that marked and measured event, we are one way, we see the world this way, we are perceived that way.  We act and we choose and we do in the Before, until magically, we are on the other side, privy to a whole new set of choices and expectations and commitments.  There is an infinity of possibilities, a singularity of difference, until it too, this milestone, in time, gets lost and dusty and fuzzy around the edges, and we discover the next one; until it, too, gets measured and marked and remembered, until one day, we move on, we turn from remembrance to anticipation.

And so it goes.  Time is marked, and measured.  Events are witnessed.  And we are changed by it all.

I've had my share of marking time this year.  With each measure, I have been changed in some way.  There have been celebrations of new beginnings and the fiftieth anniversary of my birth.  There have been remembrances and mourning for things let go.  Holidays have been marked.  Time has passed, and we- I- have stood witness to it all, sometimes on the banks of that mighty river, passively watching it go by, sometimes right in the middle of the stream, splashing in the waters of those events, those celebrations, those milestones. 

Nothing big.  Nothing earth-shattering in its import.  Small events, gently flowing streams of time that separate the Before from the After.  But I measure their passage, and mark them.  I was both witness and participant in the same breath.  Here, on this side, was one world.  And suddenly, the horizon tilts and there is a brand new world, a subtle shift in color and light laid out before me, waiting to be discovered and savored.

Next month it will be my turn to witness another milestone: my son will turn thirteen.  Thirteen!  We, both of us, will mark it and measure it and be changed by this day.  He will not be a man.  He will be... himself.  A newer, more self-assured, more questioning, older, thoughtful, mindful, analytical, brash and playful self.  Already he is leaping, with faltering grace.  Already he is drinking in information and ideas and thoughts and is drawing his own borders, making his own connections.   Already his logic is more sound, his conclusions more sure than what came seemingly moments before.  

He stands now, poised on the edge of time, already gathering himself, already testing those waters, feeling the sharp and chill exhilaration of the new and different and exciting, tasting the sweetness of the yet-to-be.  Where will he stand, on the other side of this day, that will make a difference, that will change him? 

He will not be a man; not yet.  He will travel many miles and pass through many years before he can claim that, before he will be shaped into a man.  He will be a boy still, caught so delicately between an infinity of worlds.  And yet he will be changed.  He will be different.  Time will have shifted, separating one moment from the next, creating an infinite vista of the possible.  In an instant, on that day, he will cross the divide of time and stand on the shoulders of giants and wrap himself in a garment of light and loose thread and bind himself to his past and his future.

My son, my beloved boy, will stand with me on the Shabbat of his thirteenth birthday.  I will be his witness, as he offers ancient words of blessing and praise, as he takes my Grandfather's tallit and places it gently on his broadening shoulders.  He will wind the fringes around his fingers and gather the threads into a whole.  His will be a new song, a new dance, a new celebration.  He will be a new voice in the wilderness, and our sacred and holy community will be all the richer for it.  He will begin to find his own way, journey on in solitary wonder, in companionable joy, in defiance and innocence and doubt. 

We measure time, don't we?  Measure it and mark it, witness and remember.  Here, on the edge of his childhood, the border of a distant shore, he will remember this moment, he will mark the not-Now and measure the Yet-to-be.  From this day forward, he will stand, ever and always, cloaked in light and gathering loose threads into a new whole.

My son, my beloved boy, will leap into the infinite and he will soar.