One is afraid. Naturally.
Who is not afraid of pure space—
that breath-taking empty space
of an open door?”
–Anne Morrow Lindbergh
in Gift from the Sea
Once or twice a week, I take the train to Los Angeles. It is a relaxing counterpart to the stress filled commute when I go by car. Instead of sitting in gridlocked traffic, I get to glide along the rails, watching the world go by, stop by station stop. I can rest and sink into my seat, leaving the driving to someone else.
The other day, on my return home, I was watching the scenes pass by my window, houses, trees, industrial parks, shops and restaurants, and it occurred to me that this is an awful lot like life. Instead of seeing the dwellings and offices whiz by, I envisioned scenes of my own life, like the train, moving slowly at first, as it leaves the station, imperceptibly gaining speed, until the view outside my window is almost a blur. There is my first wedding day, and then my son’s birth, in the next instant, he is grown and on his own, and a part of me wants to yell “wait! I didn’t really catch that last view of him at age 12 or 16 or 21!” Whoosh! Onto the next view outside my window – time waits for no one.
And just like on a train, I cannot see what lies ahead, only what is in my view outside my window, one moment in time. If I am looking back, in a futile effort to hold onto something that has past, then I miss the view right in front of me. If I am craning my neck, trying to see what lies ahead, the world becomes a blur and again, I miss the chance to focus on what I can see clearly. I imagine myself turning my head back and forth, as I try to capture the past or look to the future, as the world passes by shouting “here I am! Look at me!”
Now I know that time and our sense of its movement in a forward direction is really an illusion. I know intellectually that there is only really “now”. But I live in the metaphor of our age and that is one of time that speeds up as we get older. Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes so eloquently of this in her jewel of a book, Gift from the Sea. She points out that we are afraid of the empty void that lies before the open door, fearful of what might lie beyond. She calls these fears “angels of annunciation,” heralding a new stage of living “when one might be free to fulfill the neglected side of one’s self. One might be free for growth of mind, heart and talent, free at last for spiritual growth…”
As I move along the stream of life, or to stick with the train metaphor, the rails, I hope that I will hold onto the truth that with each passing phase of life, a new door opens, a new possibility, a new adventure. Even though passage is usually accompanied by some sort of pain, for the irretrievable loss of what once was, the movement is onward, toward something as yet unknown. We can either crane our necks in a desperate effort to hold onto the ineffable, or we can embrace the future, paradoxically by focusing on the present, by immersing ourselves in the “now” of our lives. The way into the future, through the abyss of the empty space, is by focusing on this moment in time, the only moment we can truly fully inhabit, the only one that is really ours to embrace.