Stephanie Hill: ‘Time is a sort of river of passing events’
“Here hyacinths of heavenly blue, shook their rich tresses to the morn.” — James Montgomery
“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” — Marcus Aurelius
It was John’s birthday — my husband of nearly 30 years. We had celebrated his sister, Jacki’s, and his birthdays earlier in the week, but as I wished him a “Happy Birthday” that morning, I was struck by the number of birthdays we had celebrated together in our marriage. Later, that same day at school, when one of our much younger co-workers asked if John was 49 years old and holding, the look of amazement in her eyes when he stated he was 57 struck me as ironic. John and I were once the young staff members; now we are the veterans. The realization of this notion did not fully sink in - yet.
As I was waiting for a fitness class to start at Brown Dog Yoga, I looked around the room. There were women of all ages present, but I was struck by a pair of younger women who were clearly, based upon their conversation, teachers. My eyes kept being drawn to how very young they looked. Surely, they were not old enough to have a college degree, much less already be current educators. Then, from a deep cavity of personal recollections, I inwardly smiled as I recalled the fact that I had been like them at one time in my life. In fact, during my first year as a teacher at a local high school, many staff members who did not know me would ask for my hall pass. What a memory!
Our priest, Monsignor Dean, walked behind the pulpit to speak. Following our weekly mass, the school had surprised him with a gift in honor of his 67th birthday. He spoke with a clear voice, but his face was unmistakably caught in a reverie. His words were full of sentiment and wistfulness.
Monsignor described celebrating his first birthday in Huntington. He had been in third grade, and was home sick with the mumps - quite a disappointment for a young lad on such a highly anticipated event. His dad gave him a hyacinth that year. With great emotion, he described how on his walk over to the church that morning he passed a hyacinth, newly sprouting from the ground and was reminded of his dad as well as the bittersweet taste of the passage of time. I swallowed hard as I felt the powerful implication of this words when he added, “It seems like that was only yesterday when Dad gave me that flower.”
I held and read the three names I was given: Hospitalman Luke Emch, KIA 03/02/2007; Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, KIA 03/03/2006; and Sergeant Joshua V. Youmans, KIA 03/01/2006. I listened as other voices took turns reading 33 names of women and men killed in action on March 1-3 since 2011 in the circle of remembrance. We were all preparing, in some way, to participate in an over 3-1/2-mile run/walk of the “wear blue: run to remember” Ashland community monthly outing. These names would be carried in our hearts as we took purposeful steps in honor and remembrance of their ultimate sacrifice. Once more I felt the constriction of my throat as I fought back the emotion.
Who was I to complain about the quick passage of time? Their families would give nearly anything to have more time to spend with their fallen loved one, no matter how many gray hairs or wrinkles acquired along the way. How fortunate I was to be alive; to be present in that moment; to have spent nearly 30 years of marriage with my husband; to have both of my parents and step-parents alive; to have all of my siblings still alive; to have a beautiful daughter in college; to be able to work and contribute to society and my local community in a meaningful way - how very fortunate, indeed.
A couple of hours later
Driving home from Ashland on US 52, I was struck by the number of times I had traversed this route over the years from age four until now - nearly 50 years of traveling this road. Memories of driving to and from holiday and birthday celebrations in order to be with grandparents and extended family; church events; numerous visits to our pediatrician when I was a kid; years of driving to and from Ohio University; anticipating my latest haircut as I drove to Ironton; dates between my now husband and me. How many more miles will I travel this route until it is my last?
Then, the song came on. “Lightning Crashes,” by Live - the haunting imagery; its striking lyrics; the emotional voice and, that is when the tears could no longer be held back.
It was a song from oh-so-long-ago. A song I often listened to when I first started writing in my 40s to begin to crawl out of the deep despair of depression into which I had fallen after the death of one of my precious kindergarten students - the exact same age as my daughter. I thought of his final trip down this highway. My mind raced to the final mile of the men and women whose names I had read just hours ago. What was their final mile? Was there an angel there with each of them as they crossed over, calming their fear? I would like to believe this is true.
I thought of the loved ones I have already lost in this life. My dear grandparents and sweet mother-in-law, uncles, aunts, neighbors, friends. Do they know I still think of them? Do they know they mattered? And, in the end, will my life have mattered?
Tears flowed. The miles rolled. Life streams through my grasping hands.
“Oh now feel it, comin’ back again/ Like a rollin’, thunder chasing the wind/Forces pullin’ from/The center of the earth again/I can feel it.” - Lyrical excerpt from “Lightning Crashes” as performed by Live.
Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.