From just beyond the grave, after his plane went down in the 1970’s, Jim Croce’s mellow voice could be heard over the AM radio singing the ironic lyric, “There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them.”
Since then, that little tune has had a strange way of showing up in my head at key moments in my life. It arrived today, as I walked through the front door, having just concluded a family vacation in sunny Florida. Everything in the house was precisely as we’d left it on the day we loaded up the van just over a week ago. It’s as if I were in a conversation that was interrupted by a momentary hic-up. Now, here I am finishing the sentence right where I had left off before our seven-day vacation/ hic-up. If my skin weren’t sunburned, I would swear that the vacation took place in a dream sequence in the midst of a sound night’s sleep.
A deepening awareness of the fleeting nature of things began right around the time that my birthday odometer flipped into the 40’s. As a kid, way before this awareness, I can remember listening to adult stories that referenced events that took place over twenty years in the past. They would speak of these days of yore as if they had occurred last week-like there had been a slip in the cogs that controlled the passage of time-and twenty years had just scrolled on by in a blur. Measuring out time in such huge increments made those adults seem incomprehensibly old to me.
Now that I have become incomprehensibly old myself, I sometimes hear my own mouth referencing an event that took place over a score of years ago. Like my reaction to returning home from vacation, I wonder, “Where did all that time go?”
When I consult my personal library of ancient, twenty-plus year old memories, none are more fondly remembered than family mealtimes. With nine family members, and frequently, a guest or two, our gregarious gatherings were more party than dinner.
Danny, the baby, would be passed from lap to lap while the rest of us attempted to achieve the ultimate mealtime accomplishment-timing a joke to conclude just as a sibling (or parent) had taken a drink of milk.
Nobody chuckled louder than my dad. He had inherited a full-throated laugh from his own father. When something struck him as funny (most things struck him as funny) he would cock his head back, and out would barrel a laugh that would rattle the silverware on the table. When mom and dad hosted a party for their friends, I would drift off to sleep upstairs, rocked by the distant lullaby of my dad’s reverberating laughter.
During the course of the next decade that followed on the heels of these good times, it seemed as though my family had sprung a leak. The fissures that were embedded in my parents’ marriage had widened. Through those cracks, all the laughter that used to fill our house had managed to drain out.
On this, the high feast of our liturgical year, we Christians still must acknowledge the paradoxical nature of our human condition. We are creatures who live in time, but we were built for eternity. We were created in love, with love as our endpoint and fulfillment. However, we often find, that like my childhood family, we are wounded in our ability to achieve our most basic heart’s desire.
I can recall countless prayer sessions begging God to heal my broken family and bring us back around the table together. After years and years of this same petition, I finally was able to hear a clear Easter response. My answer came late one night in a small retreat house chapel. There I sat vigil alone in the glow of a candle that burned next to the Blessed Sacrament. One last time I was praying that God would miraculously intervene and heal my family. Suddenly, a long awaited answer arrived. Across the movie screen of my imagination, an image unfolded. It was a picture that included my mom, dad, and siblings gathered together in a family reunion that was to take place after each and all of us had passed through the veil of death to new life. In that fleeting instant, I saw my family as we had always wanted to be…as we were destined to be. Cleansed of all those things that prevented us from being our best selves, I saw a heavenly family reunion. In that image, I saw food. I saw conversation. But mostly, I saw lots and lots of laughter. In that image, I came to know that what we cannot achieve ourselves, God will accomplish through the power of resurrected life.
Easter is that season when we recognize the power and possibility of redemption. This Easter, right in the midst of the brokenness of this time-bound world, we can have a good laugh with Christ who pulled the ultimate joke on death. In the power of His resurrected life, we can dare to believe that our deep-down longings were not made for futility and disappointment. Even when we encounter the limits of time, or the limits of our frail humanity, the One who has risen and abides in our hearts has ensured that there will be plenty of time for the fulfillment of all of those things that really matter most to us.