Causes and effects might be the only signs we meager humans are given that time passes at all. Buddhists point to causality as the ultimate source of existence, imposing eternal change without beginning or end, shunyata. Scientists tell a story not so different, bootstrapping always from cause to effect to cause, meticulously constructing the edifice. As Christmas comes again, past causes and future effects remind us that another of the best years of our lives has passed — time being precious.
This one began with our family striving through the final stages of my dissertation (girls at their grandparents', Neely searching for an apartment while packing endless boxes, me writing madly, trying to stay healthy, preparing to defend on Groundhog Day). Dawn and Joe generously threw us a going-away bash, and Bob and Mary Lou threw another, and the St. Andrew's crew threw another (miss all you guys!). By March we had been on the lucky end of a minor rental-market miracle, driven a 24-foot Penske truck up treacherous I-95, unloaded everything we own just before the season's last snowstorm, and were finding our way around New Haven. Neely dove straightaway into a collection of projects. She planted her biggest-ever vegetable garden, fosters retired racing greyhounds, and is trying to stay in shape for a triathlon next summer. After a month-long, intensive training course with yoga master Ana Forrest, she enjoys being a yoga instructor, teaching three or four Forrest Yoga classes a week.
Mornings now, the girls go to nursery school, absolutely loving it, crying when they have to come home. Jessie inches beyond toddlerhood and into the role of a little girl as her fourth birthday approaches. She recites Are You My Mother? from memory, invents her own rhymes, and loves pretending to be the mother (”Carol,” strangely). Her opinions of fashion grow stronger and more erratic all the time — a pink summer skirt and a halloween t-shirt on frigid December mornings? Martha, two now, pretends along as Jessie's “little daughter” for awhile, then asserts her independence by sticking a finger in Jessie's face: “You go away!” She loves to help cook, always dragging stools around the apartment; she often straps on a backpack, saying “I'm going to teach yoga. See you later!” Endless trails of picture books and stuffed animals follow both girls wherever they go. I myself work more than I should but sneak out to run or cycle regularly. In August I also took my first backpacking trip since the kids were born, walking three days around the Great Circle of New Hampshire.
Between the frantic moments of toddler life we've managed a few other outings as well: Neely and I cycled in the bitter cold from College Park to the National Mall to be part of the Obama inauguration (biggest crowd I've ever witnessed, by a solid order of magnitude). We flew to New Orleans for a long and festive weekend celebrating the marriage of Laura and Imtiaz — congratulations! With the girls, we road-tripped to Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia for friends, family, and graduation. Jessie and Martha enjoyed two long stays with each set of grandparents, first during the winter while Neely and I prepared to move, then during the summer while Neely trained in yoga. While at home we have been blessed with visitors: Jane and Jimbo, Haynes and Melanie, Tom and Ann, Laura, Josh. We are grateful for their company and (in many cases) their babysitting help as well.
And setting your striving aside to breathe a moment, you realize that now is the time for forming the memories you will remember, that now is the time for speaking the words by which you shall be remembered. Around the corner from your own house, on a street familiar but only just dark, you notice it — the staggering complexity of life's motion, saddle points in interpenetrating fluids, swirling on and on. And John Prine sings, “The years just flow by like a broken-down dam.” And the Greasy Beans retort, “In the midst of all this history and commotion / honey I just think you ought to spend your time with me.” In your precious time through the coming year, may you savor great joys, birth sacred creations, and be always proud of the ways you spend the time you are given.