The Eternal Now

One summer, I disciplined myself to take walks like “Eyes” does. I paused to look at the patterns and shapes of flowers, the stippling of color along their petals, the bend of their long stems. I opened myself to the silhouetted patterns of leaves against the sky as the buds unfurled and the sunlight grew in strength from April to late August. When it rained, I stood over the puddles and studied my muted reflection, broken by the impact of drops and the ridges of ripples. One day, coming back home, I looked at the dirt and bracken beaten down around the edges of a parking lot, and I thought, “this is the only time I’ll see this with these eyes, see this particular pattern of twigs and trash and stones. They’ll never be in this exact pattern again, the sun will never slant onto them in exactly this way, I’ll never again find the posture and the position of my body that allows me to see how dark and hard their shadows are.” Everything is ephemeral, and I felt very grateful to God for being in each and every moment, for abiding in the eternity that these passing things have a permanent home in. They exist here only moment by moment. With God, they exist forever.

That Autumn, my mother died. She was in the ICU for a month, and day after day my father and I were with her, in among the tubes and trays and beeping machines. At first I kept to the disciplines that had filled my summer with such a feeing of grace. I quieted my breath, paid attention to my body, felt how my emotions played themselves out in my stomach and shoulders. I was a spiritual warrior, an unassailable castle, and I would agree to listen to grief and learn from it, but it wouldn’t break me. Three days before she died, my daughter and I went to see Arrival, the science fiction movie starring Amy Adams. The movie begins with a death, the death of her daughter, but is really about time and eternity. The aliens experience time differently, and their language reflects an understanding of the eternal now. My daughter and I left the theater with our hearts in our throats. The hospital was on the other side of the highway, and the tower where my mother lay was visible from the theater’s parking lot. I checked my phone and saw, miracle beyond miracles, that she had come out of her coma, and we drove to the hospital and found her sitting up in bed, her eyes open, mouthing words around the tube that snaked down her throat and into her lungs. We told her how much we loved her, tried to explain what had happened to her. She tried to write us a note with her swollen hands, an illegible scrawl. But it didn’t matter. She was getting better. Soon we’d get to talk to her, to sit with her at the dinner table, to watch her age with grace and, eventually, far into the future, die with dignity.

The next day she had slipped back into a coma, and my brothers were summoned from California to be there at her death bed. In the following months, as grief took hold of me and all of my disciplines fell away, my daughter would talk about time. She said that she didn’t necessarily believe in life after death, but she did believe that all time was the same in the eyes of God. With God, all things are eternally alive, in all of their different moments of existence. My infant mother was with God in the eternal now, and my dying mother was with God in the eternal now. And each moment of my own life, and my daughter’s life, will continually exist in God until the end of time. That is what is meant by God’s eternity.

To walk like Eyes, to be aware, to perceive, is more than a pleasant past time, more than a spiritual discipline that makes one aware of mystery and beauty and fills one with gratitude. To walk like Eyes is to touch God’s eternity, to see the incredible preciousness of each passing thing and to know that it really isn’t passing, but eternal. After her sister died, the artist Lori Esposito embarked on a series of “grief walks.” She would place water and dye on a porcelain plate and walk with it until the water had evaporated and a pattern of dye was dried to the plate. If the weather was humid, these walks would take hours – if it was arid, they would be quick. She walked in all weather. I walked with her once, and stared down at the crystalline patters of dye that rimed the edges of the plate where the water had splashed, and at the diminishing pool of tint in the plate’s center, the way it dried in waves, lapped like the patterns of tide on a beach. I breathed and moved my body and concentrated on the plate. Lori was teaching me to understand and participate in grief by understanding and participating in the now. Because it’s in the now that all things are returned to us. It’s in the now that the world is restored.

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