We have all heard the expression, haven’t we? Perhaps used it jokingly or disparagingly, or maybe realistically. “Over the hill.” What might constitute “over”? Is it 40? 45? 50?
“Over the hill” suggests decline. Climb and descent. The apex of life has been reached. It is all downhill from that point on, perhaps the snowball of time picking up speed as it rushes to the precipice of life’s end. The mountain’s peak is typically pictured in the center, a symmetry of time on either side. The peak or perhaps plateau smack in the middle.
What is middle age? Middle of what? Middle of a life span. Middle of adulthood. Middle for whom? A life span, while statistically calibrated, varies for each. The days appointed, the Bible intones. Each life stretched out by its Creator. Each fully realized, never shortchanged, by that divine deliberation. Middle age?—only God knows.
The grizzled centenarian whose life is measured in numbers of wars, survivors of each named by its region or scope, even though having fought in only one or two, or none. The eight-day-old baby who lived long enough to be known and photographed and missed. These skew the actuarial life span. They draw a mountain large or small, each peaking at a midpoint of a life of its own. Unique. Significant. Real. Unknowable, at least before the fact.
But perhaps terrain is not most apt to describe a life’s span. Maybe it is time. After all, is that not the measure of a life – time? Not yards or pounds or degrees. Time. Not digital time that shows itself punctilliar. Analog time that shows context and completion and movement.
The wristwatch of old, whether whimsical with Mickey as guide or austere devoid of numbers, the twenty-four hour day halved to harness the measurement of time. That docent strapped to the wrist, at the ready to give bearings for life’s flow, dependent on being wound. Time does not stop but its monitor does.
The index finger and thumb work together to grasp the stem, the hand of the creature seizing what it can of the Creator’s allotment, ensuring that its watchman does not falter. The digits of the hand feel the close ridges of the tiny knob, applying enough pressure to turn the stem, clockwise. Never counterclockwise, a parable that time can never be regained, only moving forward, inexorably, inevitably, inescapably.
The second hand sweeps across the face, gobbling up moments like an arcade game, hungrily devouring precious seconds with an insatiable appetite. Of little concern to the young. Reflectively startling to the old.
Then it stops. The second hand doesn’t halt and spasm like a watch whose battery has been drained. The matter is time itself. The time allotted. The days ordained. The life has been spanned, traversed with aplomb or angst, likely both, at different times or perhaps together. Life is not linear, never one act, the drama playing itself out on different stages, ourselves the actor on each, and the acted upon.
But it ends. It is designed to end, at least in this world as it is. Death. The spring relaxed, no longer capable of being rewound. Not broken. Just exhausted. The pages of a calendar once turned will never find the same use again. The notations spread across each panel, scrawled in the little boxes, an appointment here, an anniversary there, fall to the ground like autumn leaves, reflective of life’s hue, reminders of winter’s approach. No more spring. No more summer. No more plans. No more opportunities. Swallowed up by eternity.
Time – a gift from God.