Long Shadows

I sit facing the late-afternoon sun. It makes it hard to text, hard to see the screen with all the bright sunshine. I don’t care. I am there to soak up as much sunshine as I can in the year’s remaining shirt-sleeve weather. I look at the plants before me in the flower bed, with petals of periwinkle, violet, and lemon yellow. Against the dark mulch, the flowers fairly glow in the sunlight, shining through each little petal like through a stained-glass window. The flowers are small, but they have long shadows.

I’m done with work for the day , so I’ve gone down to the lobby to watch for my bus. It’s not cold out, so I don’t have to just peer through the glass of the doors. The weather is nice enough to wait outside in shirt sleeves, which is pretty good for mid-October. The angle of the sun in the sky seems surprisingly low, and the length of the shadows makes it seem later than the clock says.

A few years ago, there was a very popular song by Five for Fighting, entitled “100 Years”. (It is from 2003, surprising me with its being already 11 years in the past.) Listening to it, I visualized each person as having their own personal area, 100 years in length. Most people will not last the full hundred years; some will live longer, but not by very much. It belongs to us, and we may do with it whatever we can.

I visualized a green progress bar, such as you see when downloading and installing a program. When the bar reaches the end of the space, the download is over. The space is our hundred years; the download, of course, is our own life. But there is a glitch in the programming on the progress bar. When the download is done, the bar might not have reached the end of the space allotted, so you have no idea how much of the download is left. Do you have time to duck out for a cup of coffee or a smoke before your computer reboots? You sure can’t tell from that progress bar.

Life. Looked at in retrospect, it resembles a TV cop show – all shootouts and car chases and courtroom drama. In prospect, however, it more resembles police work – long stretches of boredom, piles of paperwork, and occasional moments of sheer terror. It isn’t the years that make you old. The years burn up like paper in fire, but you have to live 24 whole hours, every day of that vanishing interval. It’s not the years, but the days that wear us out.

I made an Excel spreadsheet that would automatically calculate the number of the current day of my hundred-year life, which if fully downloaded, would come to 36,525 days. Tomorrow will be my day 20,200. For a while, I kept going to the spreadsheet and putting the number of the day on that day’s page in my datebook, but when I thought about it long enough, I quit. It really doesn’t matter what day it is, as long as you remember that there is a limit. One day will be our last, and we are just going to have to be okay with that.

So while the autumn sun shines, be marvelous like flowers, glow like sunlight through a stained-glass window, and mulch and protect the young, new flowers coming up. One day, someone in the future, similarly to Sir Isaac Newton, will be thinking “I stand upon the shoulders of giants.” Those shoulders will be ours, and we will be those giants.

Ask not – we cannot know – what end the gods have set for you, for me; nor attempt the Babylonian reckonings, Leuconos. How much better to endure whatever comes, whether Jupiter grants us additional winters or whether this is our last, which now wears out the Tuscan Sea upon the barrier of the cliffs!
… Even while we speak, envious time is fleeing: seize today, putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow! – Horace 65 – 8 BC


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