The Arbor Vitae 2013

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SNOW AND ICE

January 8, 2014

Tags: winter, snow, experience, last times

Sarah and the snow maiden


Winter barely sneaked onto the calendar and suddenly we vied with Antarctica for whose cold was more intense. Before the barometer started its plunge into unimaginable freeze, fat white flakes fell silently, sprinkling trees with glittering white blooms, and Sarah built a snow-woman outside the kitchen window in the country.
Because I have been confronting endings lately, I found myself wondering, as I watched her, about the ephemeral nature of her snow sculpture, and it led me to reflecting on last times. There is no warning label to alert us that we are entering a last-time zone, exhorting us to pay particular attention, to experience the full impact of every second, to be aware, to realize that whatever we are experiencing will never happen again. Never.
Only later, looking back, do we fervently wish we had been aware that we were in a last time then. The poignancy of every moment slips us by, because we so confidently anticipate a next time. Because, as the last time quietly slides into the past, it seems perhaps no different from the time before, except that now, there will be no next time.
As we move more deeply into the future, we gradually become aware that the world has changed around us and that this particular moment will never repeat itself, this wonderful experience will never return.
Sarah's snow woman will gradually melt into different shapes and disappear altogether. Life does that, too, and with a sinking heart we understand that we should have appreciated the last time more, recorded it differently, been more profoundly in the experience itself. If only we had somehow known that it would never come again.
So what I am moving towards here is that I have entered a sharper awareness. I am realizing that I need to appreciate every experience as if it might be the last time. That is how, without defining it, I addressed every moment of the last two years of my mother's life. I balanced on the edge of time. Every visit might be the last. I never knew if she would have a tomorrow.
I am saddened that in earlier years, as she faded before our eyes, I had not understood about the need to capture each moment forever. I never believed that it would never come again. And now, I cannot remember the last time she walked on her own, she showed me a glorious new painting she had just finished, or played her Chopin piece on the piano, or sang, or laughed, or remembered my name.
But for the last two years I did give every visit the respect of a last time. And when it truly was the last time, I knew it was the right time for her and I knew that I had saved and stored every possible good moment that preceded it.


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