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The Last Syllable

I’ve read that people become happier around 50 and I’ve wondered why. I figure it probably has something to do with time.

Perhaps people in their later years accept that they cannot escape time, both its raveges and its potentials.

When one is younger, perhaps, he can cling to the delusion that a decision can bring something to an end, that by making some sort of big, dramatic decision, one can attain a stability.

For example, a person who fears addiction or a sexual sin or even pain can believe that by making a big dramatic decision he can bring the tension to an end. He might decide to drink freely or to teetotal, he might decide to become promiscuous or to take a vow of celibacy or marriage, he might lift weights or take up cutting or take drugs.

What he’ll find, and perhaps only experience can teach him this, is that the decision doesn’t settle anything except which fight comes next. That’s life. You can give yourself to promiscuity, but you won’t find a dissolution of the tension; only new tensions and deeper fears.

The desire to escape from time has been with us since we and time became disoriented just after the Seventh Day.

Time hurts, melts, consumes, rusts, ferments, erodes, destroys, washes away, alters, destabilizes, weakens, and terrifies. It hides everything it does and takes everything from us.

Thus Macbeth, in his justly famous disorientation:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow…

But why? What causes him to see his life as “a poor player… a tale told by an idiot?”

It seems to me that MacBeth became disoriented, dizzy, because of what he did in time beause of what he expected from time. He thought if he made this great decision (to take the crown and end the tension introduced by the crazed sisters), if he got it over with and made the decision, it would bring about a closure.

He thought time would stop dissolving things and become his servant.

It didn’t happen.

If only time would stop melting everything we make, we could do something that lasted. The corrollary is that we could do something without it mattering, without having to live with the consequences. It would, as MacBeth suggested, signify nothing, but it would be easier to live with.

But it’s not like that. We make decisions to solve problems only to discover that there was not a problem to solve, but a life to manage. If we are inclined toward a given sin (and we all are), the inclination will not be overcome by giving in. It might be overcome by time, but only if that time is filled with grace. And that is the choice we can make.

I will continue to be a disappointment to myself for the rest of my life, but I hope to take advantage of the time remaining to open myself to the grace that is the only thing that can transform me during, in, and through time. My goal is to learn to live with time, to make friends with it, and to accept it as a gift of grace – I cannot become pure of heart and thus see God without it; but if I can become pure of heart and see God, then can I find a greater gift?

Please pray for me.

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