My grandfather was on a ladder painting the outside of some old barracks on this day 75 years ago. A single man, 20 years old, enjoying the Hawaiian sunshine when the drone of aircraft engines grew louder and louder until the moment he realized that life would never be the same.
In Canada, just on the other side of the river from Detroit, my grandmother anxiously awaited the news of her fiance’s fate. With Canada joining the conflict a few years before the USA, his Canadian Army unit was already deployed to Europe where the conflict was raging.
Over the next four years my grandmother would receive two devastating telegrams, both her fiance and brother wouldn’t be coming back from Europe.
My grandparents would ultimately meet a few years later and build a great family with four children. But how different things looked just a few years earlier?
This date always gets me thinking about fate. How things would be so different had my grandmother’s fiance not died in the war. How we don’t see the things that don’t happen, only those that do. Some other future family tree was wiped out by those bombs in Europe, while another was created the same day.
Today is a great example of fate on a smaller scale. I am at home typing this because there was a power outage at my office. These thoughts would never have made it onto the screen had that not happened, and perhaps these thoughts will resonate with someone else and change their course.
Today I also reflect on how the passage of time ultimately leaves everyone forgotten. My grandfather passed away 20 years ago, my kids never met him, they will never remember. My grandmother’s first fiance and her brother will pass from memory when she perishes in her nursing home.
Who will be left to remember any of us? Given enough time we will all be forgotten. We worry about legacies and leaving things behind, but deep down we know it will all be forgotten someday. Even those who fought valiantly for freedom are soon forgotten.
Then what matters? Is it simply the experiences that each of us go through that shapes our souls? I go to church on Sundays, but only occasionally does anything there resonate to my core. I’d like to say I see the truth, but that would be a lie, and if most others were honest they’d say the same.
But today, on Pearl Harbor Day, I most often ponder the passage of time. As I watch my children grow, and I reminisce about how much they’ve changed in a few short years, I can’t help but think about 100 years from now when only a handful of people will remember me, at best, and ponder exactly what I should do with this knowledge.
I certainly don’t have all the answers. Trying to hang on to time is like trying to scoop sand with a tennis racket. I am deeply aware of this passage of time, yet powerless to change it, and uncertain about what to do with the finite amount of it I’ve been given.
I’ll sometimes ignore it, or distract myself with pleasures of the flesh, but the question always remains, “what should I do next?”
This is why one of my favorite books to read to my children is The Three Questions. In the story inspired by Leo Tolstoy, a young boy has reached an age where he wants to know the answer to three existential questions:
When is the best time to do things?
Who is the most important one?
What is the right thing to do?
Upon seeking the counsel of a wise old turtle, the young boy discovers that the answer to these questions is:
Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.
I would say the adult version of this book is The Power of Now, but I find The Three Questions to be just as effective and it takes a mere minutes to read.
I have a million things I could be doing right now with my time. I could be painting rooms that are long overdue for a new coat, I could be measuring the house for the new floors I’ll be putting in, or I could be filling out Christmas cards, but I’m not.
I have chosen to give this hour to this rambling essay. A look into my consciousness that is therapeutic for me and perhaps helpful for you. You are the one I am with right now, and I am doing all that I know how to enhance the your life at this time.
I certainly hope my grandparents didn’t spend much time wondering “What might have been?” and rather lived in their moment, despite all they saw and experienced. I know I am doing my best focus on those by my side and not waste a second of this precious time wondering, “What if?”