Feeling Time

Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

One evening last week, I got dressed up (well, if fleece leggings under a long skirt passes for dressed up) and made my way to Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theater to see the musical, “Pippin!” I was very excited to go to my first big theater event in the Twin Cities – and there was the added element of adventure since I was attending alone (though I planned to say hello to my favorite usher, who was working that night). I had longed to see this show for several reasons. First, since high school, I have loved the show’s most well-known song, “Corner of the Sky”. Second, I saw a piece on CBS Sunday Morning about the preparations and practice the touring cast (the very cast I was about to see) had made to be ready for this physically demanding revival, re-imagined as a circus-themed production complete with acrobatics and high-flying aerials. Third, I knew nothing about the actual story, so the show would be almost entirely new to me.

A fourth reason I was excited about this particular experience was that it was taking place at the Orpheum Theater. Years ago, before I ever thought of moving here, I visited my friend Mike on a Halloween weekend. That visit was memorable for several reasons, most importantly because I met Mike’s sons (Alex and Matt) for the first time. One of the things we did that weekend was take a haunted tour of the Orpheum. It was a fun, almost magical, tour – but not once did it occur to me that I would ever attend a show in that beautiful, historic theater. So, as you might imagine, my heart was full before I walked in the door to see Pippin. (Oh, and my favorite usher, mentioned above? Mike, of course!)

I found my aisle seat, toward the back of the main floor. I was thrilled, as a vertically challenged viewer, to discover that no one was seated in front of me. In fact, mine was the only occupied seat in my entire row and the row in front of me. The house lights went down and the stage lights up, and I was in my own little envelope of space with the show.

A brief plot synopsis might be helpful. Pippin is a young prince who feels he is called to lead an extraordinary life, and sets out in search of his place among meaningful events and activities. In the end, however, he discovers that giving your heart to the life you have is truly meaningful, even if that life is one of ordinary pursuits. (Check out www.stephenschwartz.com if you want to know what the show’s creator has to say about its themes and meaning.)

In Act 1, Scene 4, Pippin visits his grandmother, Berthe (played in the show I saw by the amazing, Tony-award-winning Priscilla Lopez). Berthe’s show-stopping number, “No Time At All”, was a song I knew but didn’t realize was from Pippin. The 66-year-old Berthe/Lopez not only looks incredible when she strips down to a trapeze-artists’ costume, she manages to fly through the air AND SING, appearing completely at home in the aerial number. “No Time At All” becomes an audience sing-along, and while I thoroughly enjoyed belting out the choruses, by the last one, I found myself overcome by emotion.

Now, days after my Pippin! experience, I find myself still singing that chorus – and ready to share why it choked me up.

One reason was the sheer admiration I felt for Priscilla Lopez. What an inspiration that was – I hope in my mid-60s to be ready, willing and able to engage so audaciously with the challenges life offers me.

But there was also a more spiritual component to what I felt. Throughout my life, there have been moments when, in the midst of a special experience, I have felt myself step out of the stream of time. When this happens, my “normal” self remains as is, doing whatever it is doing. In this case, I remained in my seat thoroughly enjoying the performance. But my consciousness somehow steps outside my experience, and is able to look upon it (and myself) with some separation. Briefly, at Pippin, I stood outside the moment, and saw myself shining with enjoyment, radiating life and energy. The worries and cares of the day had dissipated, I was no longer concerned about the financial splurge required to purchase my ticket; no longer worried that I had forgotten where in the unfamiliar ramp my car was parked; no longer awkward about indulging in this experience solo. Looking at myself, I saw beauty. I knew that this is how we are meant to live: without unreasoning fear, without concern for conforming to expectations, but with energy and joy for this moment we have been given. The gift of this present.

As we grow older, our sense of time changes. It rushes past us, faster each year. Sometimes I am stunned that another week, month or even year is already gone. This feeling of time rushing past creates anxiety, bordering often on fear. Though people talk about young adults being in too much of a hurry, of their need to slow down and let their lives unfold, I am finding that this is much harder to do at 53 than it was at 23 or 33. Back then, I thought I knew there was time for everything. Now, I am very aware as each day passes that it was another grain of sand in a rapidly diminishing hour-glass. I can’t count the grains that are left and I have no way to accrue more than are already there. This makes it very difficult to allow my life to unfold. To have patience. And so the anxiety creeps in, ratchets up as I worry that I’m not moving fast enough in my life.

The gift I received during that musical number was awareness that this is a false sensation. It is always time to be living, always time to make the most of this world we’re given. Spring will turn to fall, it is inevitable. No point in getting all angst-y about it. No point in regretting the past or looking with fear toward the future. I am not in control of it. All I can do is choose how I interact with the gift of the present as it unfolds. I can be in it, living it, or I can waste it with fear, worry, anxiety.

When I arrived home after the show (after having no difficulty finding my car in the ramp, though I drove in circles on the one-way streets downtown for a while) I was still so energized by the experience that I couldn’t sleep. I posted this on my Facebook page:  “This is what the best art in any medium can do: shine a light into our shadowed spaces and allow us to see with new eyes.”

We are often advised in life to “pick our battles”. What I’m seeing with new eyes this week, thanks to Pippin!, is that my battle isn’t with Time. Time is unchanging – time is as and what it is. My battle is with false perceptions of time, which lead to fear and anxiety. And that is a battle I know I can win with faith in God, trust in myself, and attention to this gift of the present.

 

What Shapes Us

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

On our recent road trip to New Mexico, my family took Mike and I to Kasha-Katuwe, better known as Tent Rocks. The unique landscape was originally formed by massive eruptions in the Jemez volcanic field, which “spewed pyroclasts (rock fragments), while searing hot gases blasted down slopes in an incandescent avalanche called a ‘pyroclastic flow’.”  The resulting formations are spectacular.

We climbed a little over 1100 feet (from an altitude of 5570 to one of 6760), taking in the most amazing views of both the tent rock formations and the surrounding New Mexican landscape.

Tent Rock formations
Tent rocks in foreground, mountainous New Mexico in background

One of my favorite parts of the hike, both on the way in/up and on the way back/down, was the trail leading through the slot canyons. Over time, wind and rain have carved canyons and arroyos into the rock, creating passages (like the one pictured at the top of this post) of surpassing beauty. For most of the morning, we hiked through 100 degree temperatures, thin air and a burning sun. These canyons of layered rock were hushed and cool by comparison.

The stillness of the canyons gave rise to contemplation. Like the rock, which was shaped by the forces of nature, we too, are shaped by the vissicitudes of life. Our choices, our experiences, who we love and how we learn – all have a role in shaping us. Therefore, it seemed especially poignant to share this experience, and these thoughts, in companionable silence with Mike.

We met when I was 18, Mike 19. We were still fresh, unmarked clay. Our faces shone with, as J.D. Salinger put it when speaking of college students, “the misinformation of the ages”. Over the next few years, we shared some powerful experiences as each of us attempted to discover the direction of our lives. Eventually, though, we found that we were bound in different directions, and we parted ways.

The weathers of life – births, disappointments, marriages, jobs, successes – had their way with us over the next thirty years. Molding and shaping us into mature adults, careworn and wiser (we hope). And then, surprisingly, bringing us back onto each others’ paths. Under the extra pounds, the gray hair, the wrinkles, the familiar past could be glimpsed. Only now, the layers and textures add depth and surprise. They offer possibilities that didn’t exist in our earlier friendship: wisdom and generosity of spirit, compassion and forgiveness. Human capacities with which youth is often barely acquainted.

So tonight, back home in my little house in Iowa, I am thinking of Kasha-Katuwe and the lessons it taught me. Time makes shape-shifters of us all. I am grateful for this learning. I am grateful for this earth which teaches me. And yes, Mike, lest you think I left out the most important part (again), I am grateful for your company on this path.

Mike and I, at the top!