Time, meaningless and meaningful

“I was blessed.  I was told I only had three months to live.”*
(Eugene O’Kelly)

In their book on the power of moments, Chip and Dan Heath include the powerful story of Eugene O’Kelly who, on discovering he only had three months to live due to a rare cancer, set out to “beautifully resolve” the relationships in his life.  What followed was a change in his time perspective:

“I experienced more Perfect Moments and Perfect Days in two weeks than I had in the last five years, or than I probably would have in the next five years, had my life continued the way it was going before my diagnosis.”*

To live life as moments and days is telling.  I had reread Alan Lightman outlining the kind of distances and time involved in travelling to the nearest star after our own:

‘If we set out for the nearest star beyond our solar system at [500mph], it would take five million years to reach our destination.  If we travelled in the fastest rocket ship manufactured on Earth, the trip would take one hundred thousand years, or at least a thousand human lifespans.’**

There’s no point in measuring space travel like this in anything less than years, but this way of measuring time and distance means little to us on Earth – our challenge is to live in moments and days.  We can do far more with these than we often imagine, but it will take effort.  The Heath brothers are quick to point this out when they articulate the reason for writing their book:

‘We want to build your determination.  It’s going to be way harder than you think to create peaks.’^

The peaks are the moments that are memorable and remarkable for us.  Again, these skew time, as O’Kelly testifies to experiencing in his goodbyes to those who mattered most to him in his life:

“I felt like I was living a week in a day, a month in a week, a year in a month.”*

Brené Brown describes how the protagonist in their story – and we all live in stories – has to come to terms with the path they must take being a difficult one:

‘The protagonist looks for every comfortable way to solve the problem.  By the climax, he learns what it’s really going to take to solve the problem.  This act includes the “lowest of the low.”^^

Brown is describing Acts 2 of three acts for facing up to our personal stories.  First there is the reckoning in which we come face-to-face with our reality.  And finally there’ll be the revolution or breakthrough.  In-between, though, there is Acts 2: the rumble.  The lowest of the low is a telling description for where O’Kelly found himself, in his final days living through each of the acts.  He turns towards his readers to ask some questions:

“Look at your own calendar.  Do you see Perfect Days ahead?  Or could they be hidden and you have to find a way to unlock them?  If I told you to aim to create 30 Perfect Days, could you?  How long would it take.  Thirty days?  Six months?  Ten years?  Never?  I felt like I was living a week in a day, a month in a week, a year in a month.”*

O’Kelly’s story helps us to see that here is something within the long reach of most of us; when we add moments and days to our lives, things change.

And when we make moments and days count for ourselves then it’s highly extremely probable likely they’ll begin to count more for others too.

I close with some words from Lightman, from a protagonist in another of his books exploring how the Big Bang changed everything, followed by some words I was pondering this morning, from Frederick Buechner:

“Frequently, I had no particular destination in mind, but was merely following a natural curiosity to understand how the Void had been transformed by time.”*^

“Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it
no less than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it
because in the last analysis all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.”^*

(*Eugene O’Kelly, quoted in Chip and Dan Heath’s The Power of Moments. O’Kelly tells his story in his book Chasing Daylight.)
(**From Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe.)
(^From Chip and Dan Heath’s The Power of Moments.)
(^^From Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)
(*^From Alan Lightman’s Mr g.)
(^*Frederick Buechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)

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