The Poverty of Finitude.

A few weeks ago by some grand miracle of God, I found myself outside under the mature oak trees on our country property in my hammock reading a work of classic literature.  The sweet song of cicadas and the gentle giggles of my children playing nicely in the new tree house that their father built just for them this summer provided a soothing soundtrack. There was a breeze that day and the temperature was not oppressive as it has been but pleasant and refreshing. The humidity was low and the sunlight was gently glistening through the trees. It also happened to be my 12th wedding anniversary and my heart and mind were filled with nostalgia and gratitude for a blessed life. Yes, it was as wonderful as it sounds.  I don't know what cosmic activity had to occur for all of these things to converge but the incredible blessing of that moment was not lost on me. A wave of euphoria swept over me and it felt as though I was literally soaking the moment in through my pores. For a while I was able to just 'be' in the moment.  Time seemed to stand still. It was utterly lovely. Now, as I find myself attempting to stretch the few remaining days of summer out to accommodate for all of the things that need to be done, I ache for that moment.

As a photographer, a parent and well...a human, the passage of time is a frustrating reality for me as it is for most people I suspect. I have an anxiety about time, about wasting it, about not having enough of it.  I photograph because I want to stop time. I want to freeze forever those beautiful moments with my children (not so much the frustrating moments). I want to live in the blessings, forever. I am utterly and tragically attached to the beauty of this world and yet because it doesn't satisfy I know that I am made for another world that is eternal.  Of course, no photograph could have adequately captured that moment in my hammock, nor could my account of it here. In time, even my memory of it will fade. Time keeps moving and so do we. This can be described as a poverty associated with our nature, a poverty of finitude. We are limited in time and space. God is not limited as such and since we are ultimately made to be with Him, we live in this world while longing for the next.

This anxiety belonging to time seems to belong exclusively to adults. The shortness of it becomes more apparent the older we get. Remember when you were a child and time seemed to stretch on forever? This is not a coincidence. Children naturally receive the world as it is since they very often have no power over it. They are told what to do and where to go, how to dress. Everything is a game, a toy an opportunity for imagination and fun. Why is this the case? I think it's because their fundamental mode is 'being'. As adults we are primarily concerned with 'doing' and 'producing.' You never hear children meeting each other for the first time asking "what do you do?" They say, "Who are you? Come and play with me! Do you believe in dragons?" Their world is not one to be manipulated and changed so they simply receive it as it is. People they encounter and experiences they have change them, educate them and form them. As adults we encounter people and situations as a project to manipulate. "How can I make this thing do, say, produce what I need in as little time as possible?" Technology multiplies this disorder exponentially. We have constant access to devices that, in the name of efficiency, produce the desired result or information in an instant. If I don't know the meaning of a word I don't have to take the time to find the dictionary and look it up. I don't even have to "google" it anymore. I simply have to say, "Alexa, what does 'finitude' mean?' And she will tell me. At face value this can seem like a good thing. We seem to be 'saving' time with all of the technological things at our disposal. And yet,  if you are like me, the more I live in the world of technology rather than the land of the tangible, the more I experience what can only be described as fatigue. The more 'efficient' I become, the more anxious I am. The more I rely on 'doing', the more impatient I become with my own 'being' and the other human 'beings" around me. My children seem louder, my neighbor is a nuisance and I begin to feel overwhelmed and depressed at my cirumstances.

I had such an experience yesterday. I spent the morning working at my computer on a project that took longer than I expected and found myself rushing to bring my children to an appointment in the afternoon, frustrated and anxious. As we drove it seemed though every red light was keeping me from my destination. The clock taunted me. Guilt came over me because of the time I had spent on the project and not being with my children in these very last days before they go back to school. We arrived a minute late and I rushed my children out of the car impatiently only to find that the appointment had been delayed. No one noticed that we were late but the damage was done. My nerves were shot, the children were echoing my frustration. We were fatigued. On the drive home, It occurred to me that I had neglected to feed my children lunch because I was absorbed in my project (don't worry, they are expert hunter gatherers in their favorite kingdom of 'pantry land'). So, I offered them to drive through Chik-Fil-A as a peace offering for my lack of presence. They happily agreed. Following  the squeals of joy however was the inevitable question that always follows the words "Chik-Fil-A", "Can we play?". I immediately started to respond with my usual, "We don't have time." "I need to get home." "Mommy is busy." but then suddenly, I remembered my moment of timelessness in the hammock that day. I remembered that the receiving of that moment and not the doing was what had restored my soul and even now allowed me to breathe deeply. "Yes! I said. We can play."

Recreation is the antidote to our fatigue. The things that re-create our soul are the opposite of the things that seem productive to us; a walk outside, feeling the grass on your feet, playing with your children, reading a book (an actual book with pages), conversation with others, laughter, good food,  but also, and more importantly: prayer, silence, Mass. These are the times when we, like children, can receive, when we can be and not 'do' so much. They breathe new life into us and make us feel as if time is standing still. They are a taste of the eternity and timelessness that we are destined for and yet somehow are also what makes us most fully human.

In these last days of summer when the pressure of school supplies and uniforms and lesson plans and schedules weigh heavy on your heart, find something each day that re-creates your soul. Breathe it in and let it wash over you.


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