When I sobered up after nineteen years of serious alcoholic drinking, the first coherent thought I remember having is: “What a waste of valuable time.” What I meant by that lament was simple–though I had lots of ideas about literature, I had not been able to write any articles or books to progress my career as a professor of English at a major Midwestern university. Gradually, the mental fog lifted and I began putting words onto paper and have been doing that ever since. That was forty-three years ago and I’m now beginning to live out my eighties as a retired professor who still has lots of ideas about literature. Now I also have ideas about a lot more, e.g., white supremacy in all its guises, the world of dance both classical and modern, politics, the world outside my windows, memories of my life in the past, and how I practice my beliefs in God and Jesus.
In 2015, when I learned that my aorta had closed in upon itself to a dangerous degree and surgery was required, I underwent a valve replacement and now happily carry around in my chest the membrane from some generous cow. A remarkable recovery led me to define what had happened as a “heart event,” suggesting something that occurred but came to an end. In the past year, however, events and tests and words from my excellent cardiologist have changed the word I need to use and inhabit from “event” to “condition.” Conditions are on-going and inconclusive, and they require attention and at times adjustments. So my heart condition will accompany me for the remainder of my days on this earth; I have a “new normal” that is affecting me in surprising ways, some of which hinge on my ideas about time.
Though I have learned to write more than I could when drunk every night, I still do not write as often or deeply as I would like. Recently, I decided I probably didn’t need to undertake more book-length projects. With encouragement from family and friends, I hired someone to design a web site for me that included a “blog.” Though periodically I promise myself to write a new blog more often, I tend to drift back into extended periods of silence. But this heart condition reality is pushing me onto new ground. My newest resolution was to write a new blog at least once a month, but my mind teems with many more subjects than the twelve that decision would create. The other day, as I was thinking again about ways I am experiencing mortality, a phrase came to me complete and clear: “You are wasting precious time.” So, all these years after I began to rediscover myself and felt I was wasting “valuable” time, I have come to view that time I’m wasting as “precious.” The difference surely comes from my recognition that I am living on what I consider to be “gift time,” and that, given that miraculous fact, I must behave differently. I want to stop pretending that I can begin to write more of what rushes around in my brain next year or next month or even next week. I want to order my thoughts and feelings and send them out to the admittedly tiny group of faithful friends who read my blog. Of course I love it when one of them writes me something after reading the latest entry, even if it’s to urge me to correct some misspelled word or smooth out an infelicitous phrase. But I want to write these little pieces to feel like a me that I have stifled too often and for too long.
The time before me is precious because it can no longer be taken for granted.