“Our lives are made
In these small hours
These little wonders
These twists and turns of fate
Time falls away,
But these small hours
These small hours still remain…”
– Rob Thomas, “Little Wonders”
“Good song,” said my husband, reaching over the van console to turn up the stereo. We were driving home to Nebraska from Florida with three of our five kids–the littlest having flown both ways with the grandparents and the biggest having earned a trip back on Delta by simply surviving being the much older sibling and cousin surrounded by a crew of little boys–and trying to stay awake in the midst of the 26-hour “we’re just gonna push straight through” trip by playing D.J with my phone.
Brad leaned back to listen while my mind swirled.
“Let it go
Let it roll right off your shoulder
Don’t you know
The hardest part is over…”
I have a complicated relationship with that song. After my mom collapsed in April 2012, it would inevitably pop up on my iTunes “shuffle” as I drove back and forth on the Interstate from her hospice room in Omaha, and when she died a year later at 58, I listened to “The hardest part is over” again, and again, and again. The “All of my regret will wash away somehow, but I cannot forget the way I feel right now” line became a metaphor for her death, that moment when she took her last breath and not one other thing mattered—not the mistakes, not the wishing you could have done something different, not the “Whys?”—beyond that very moment, the “small hours” of which I remember little other than that fate worked it out in such a way that both my mom and I were surrounded by our closest friends in that instant.
But after a few months I started to avoid it and the feelings it dredged up. Eventually, unless Brad was with me and insisted on hearing it, I’d hit skip.
Something flipped, though, during that drive, in the dark with a crew of little kids cashed out in their seats, returning from a beach vacation tanned and tired, and in the weeks since, as I’ve again listened to it on repeat while training for a fall marathon.
Instead of it being a metaphor for my mom’s death, it’s become a metaphor for life.
All the stuff that matters—really matters—is ridiculously minute. And the moments we remember are typically tiny and unplanned. We’re try to be so ambitious with our careers and money and big vacations and nights out and parties and gifts, while the stuff that sticks—the stuff that’ll be left when everything else washes away—is usually free (or at least cheap) and over in a blink.
My kids have been to both oceans and Disneyland in the last two years. Their most talked about memory in that same time period? Eating Chinese food in the living room and watching “Frozen” on a Friday night after it came out on DVD.
Brad and I have had dates, for birthdays and anniversaries. They all pale in comparison to moments like last week, where we found ourselves alone in the living room, the house relatively quiet, having an uninterrupted conversation.
Ever catch yourself intently “seeing” your kids sleep or smile? It’s so fleeting, it almost hurts your head to think about. It’s like trying to contemplate space (Look out the window while you’re riding in a car and think hard about that. Ouch.).
That is life. Seconds of time that are super cool intersected by a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t mean much. It’s insane. But it’s real. And it’s easy to wrestle so long and so hard with the things we’re not doing right or better or more of and totally miss it.
On Friday, I watched my husband and oldest daughter have an impromptu dive contest off of a friend’s dock. After weeks of talking about this July 4 weekend and the fireworks (AKA, money) we were going to blow up and the food we were going to eat and the places we were going to go, I snapped a photo and thought, “This is what she’s going to remember about this Fourth of July.” Maybe 15 minutes out of 72 hours. In 20 years, that little snippet will be a huge deal.
Before I know it, I’ll be looking at my Facebook “memories” and I’ll realize that a year has passed and another 4th is upon us and I’ll see the picture of my husband flipping into the lake while Keaton watches. And if I’ve learned anything, I’ll have focused less on our worries and dramas during the preceding 365 days and more on what’s truly left when our time is up.
“Time falls away
But these small hours,
These small hours still remain….”