I do. I take umbrage at James Taylor's vapid lyric "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." It seems important to disagree with it. There are many secrets to life, no doubt--both wisebons mots and jovial slogans (that ever-ready cliche among them: "Don't-sweat-the-small-stuff-It's-all-small-stuff." I think not).
But enjoying the passage of time seems wrong-headed to me. My high school boyfriend, that Carlos-Castenada-reading, mushroom-eating, percussionist jazzbo, used to tell me to 'be in the moment.' He was angling for sex, of course. Even then, though, I knew that in the larger scheme of things he was right. You've got to be in the moment because the moment--well, it passes. It passes really fast.
This is why when I was nineteen and discovered the famous Dylan Thomas poem, "Fern Hill," I got really depressed. "Fern Hill" is a florid recollection of Thomas' early years spent at a farm in Wales. It is here that he experiences the sense of being green and carefree, famous among the barns/About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home....
But by the third stanza he's singing another tune. Or better yet to say he's read the writing on the wall and it's all about mortality. His own and by extension, everybody's. At night, Time, (personified with even less charm than Max von Sydow as Death in "The Seventh Seal") is bearing the farm--and youth and life--away, never a nanno-second to be returned to him or to be re-lived again. By the poem's end we get the sad lament:
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
This made me seriously sad when I was nineteen. I think it still does. Mostly I try not to think of "Fern Hill." Nor of Dylan Thomas' own early and drunken demise.
But there are moments, as there was one today, walking back from teaching a class, that the haunting lines came back to me:
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades,that Time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.
Summer's ending, I reminded myself. Fall term has begun. The miserable epiphany of "Fern Hill" has me in its cross hairs once again.
And I haven't worn my bathing suit all summer.
I have not eaten enough sweet corn.
I have not spent enough time with those I love.
And there is only one antidote.
The story is told of the Buddha after his enlightenment. He is returning to the city and encounters a man who is astonished by his radiance.
The man stopped and asked, “My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?”
"No," said the Buddha
"Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?"
Again the Buddha answered, "No."
"Are you a man?"
"Well, friend, what then are you?"
The Buddha replied, “I am awake.”