By Jeff Keeling
There’s nothing quite like a grandchild’s hands to bring one face to face with the swift flight of time.
The hands of our grandson, the ebullient Owen, clutched for mine as he labored through the swimming pool’s shallow water on the first full day of our South Carolina vacation. They clutched the handlebars of the trailer bike that was attached to my mountain bike as we rode through the low country roads, marveling at Spanish moss, swampy ground and strange wildlife.
They reached to me as we crossed busy streets, and ruffled my hair as he rode on my shoulders and I trudged through sand toward the beach.
By week’s end, the reaching in the swimming pool was smoother. Just a few days had seen Owen’s swimming skills advance. That’s how things progress when you’re almost 6 years old. As we traveled back to the mountains, I felt a pang of wistfulness as the fleeting nature of these times with Owen struck me.
He’ll be riding his bike and swimming without aid soon enough. His frequent desire to spend time with Pop Pop and Gran Gran is likely to ebb (though I hope not too much) as he matures and develops friendships with his peers.
As he grows in wisdom and stature, my body and mind will continue their progression toward finality. When I am 61 and he is 16, he won’t want a ride on my shoulders and I may not be physically strong enough to provide it if he does.
So it goes, and so it will go for the duration each of us is given to live on this earth. We measure time, and our instruments for that purpose are relentlessly consistent. Whether our minds and souls want a minute, an hour, a day or a year to last forever, or they wish its immediate end, the clock and the calendar will be what they will be.
What we can do is choose to live those moments, not one of which is guaranteed to us, in joy. Our pastor, Aaron Wymer, spoke Sunday of the recent family celebration surrounding his youngest child’s high school graduation. Amid the happiness and excitement, Aaron had stepped outside. As he turned back toward his house and saw a warm, inviting place filled with people laughing and talking, he “sensed nostalgia for something that wasn’t gone,” he told us.
It was the sense that someday he was going to miss this. If he lives long enough, he’ll lose siblings, he’ll lose family members, and he’ll look back and remember mid-life vitality.
In that moment, Aaron said, he realized God’s desire for us is that we take joy in each moment we’re given, regardless of the external circumstances.
Those words were a good reaffirmation of what I had recognized as we drove home from South Carolina. From a grandparent’s perspective, Owen is at a wonderful age. We can carry on lovely conversations about relatively deep matters, but he still needs us to help him cross the street or learn to ride his bike. For a bit longer, his little hands will still want to grasp ours for comfort, security or aid, but that is sure to pass soon.
In “Surprised by Joy,” C.S. Lewis shared his journey to Christian faith. Before he began that journey, the “stabs of joy” he experienced would leave him unfulfilled. They were sublime glimpses of the eternal that are only briefly available in earthly loves and aesthetics. Eventually, Lewis came to believe such moments were “signposts” pointing the way to the truth.
In that truth – God’s love for each of us and desire that we love Him and one another as he loves us – lies the key to a deeper joy that is neither fleeting nor contingent on circumstance. Armed with that joy, it won’t so much matter whether the hands you encounter in life are smooth, small and reaching out in love and need, or frail, mottled and not long for this world. Time won’t have been defeated – you’ll just have recognized there doesn’t have to be a war going on.