I’ve just experienced a most unusual holiday season. It began in early November, when I lost my Grandmother very suddenly. In a trip to the ER, doctors discovered a brain tumor and cancer all over her body, and within a week, she was gone. My last conversation with her is still very vivid in my mind.
I was in New York City when I received the news of her brain tumor, and since I couldn’t get to her in time, I had to settle for calling her just before surgery. I’d been warned that she was “not quite herself,” and it was with a bit of apprehension that I dialed the number of her hospital room. My Nana was a strong, stubborn, articulate woman with a steel trap for a mind, and I was delighted when she greeted me warmly, in her strongest Nana voice, and dove right into conversation.
“Hi, darlin’! How are you? Have you recorded my song yet? You know I’m going to have surgery today. They found a tumor…”
Her voice trailed off then, and there was a long moment of silence. “You still there, Nana?” I asked.
“Who is this?” she faltered. “It’s Ginny? Oh, hi, darlin’. Are you still writing that book? … I love you! …”
I spent the next 15 minutes listening carefully so as not to miss one word, promising a great party to celebrate her recovery from surgery, assuring her we’d be there through every step of her treatment, trying desperately to keep my voice calm as the tears flowed, and, after every dreadfully long pause, reminding her again who I was. I had an inexplicably bad feeling about hanging up the phone that day. I couldn’t quite process what was happening. Was I really losing Nana, whose house I’d visited nearly every week as a child? whose piano I’ve played since I was two? whose cookie jar I’d stolen cookies out of as recently as last Christmas? and whose voice I’ve known since I’ve known voices?
After sharing more than three decades of Christmas Eves and half that many Christmas Days with her, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself this year. Mom and I stopped by her house for a moment, and it felt so eerie. She was gone. But how? How was there not time to talk more…or to say good-bye?
I found some poems and journal entries that Nana had written when she was in high school. I also found a list—15 pages thick—entitled “Dates To Remember, But Forgotten.” Aside from the list, they’re all things I’ve read before, but reading them now is different. They seem alive. They feel full of hope. They wonder what the future will hold. And they invite me to ponder how short the future really is…and the legacy we leave at its end.
(This is a gloriously uplifting story, isn’t it? It gets happier–really.)
In an odd twist of events, I also spent much of my holiday helping my Mom rid her garage of my junk. I opened box upon box of things I haven’t seen (or missed) in ages. I found trophies from my track and cheerleading days in high school, and threw most of them away. I found plaques honoring various academic achievements, and I threw most of those away, too. There’s just no place for all that clutter. I, of course, kept my high school and college diplomas and a few extra pieces of memorabilia for posterity’s sake, and I considered how strange it was to throw away things that, for one brief moment in time, had seemed so important.
Next, I opened a big box of press materials, photos, promotional CDs, and videotapes (yes, videotapes) from my first few years as an artist. Many of the photos and papers were wrinkled or warped from being in a box for so long, so most of that had to go, too. I did, however, manage to salvage a few pieces to remind me of that colorful season of life, and I spent the next few hours reflecting on the past, and wondering what life would have been like if my older self could have given my younger self some advice.
After all this cleaning out, throwing away, and expending of emotional energy, I finally came to the last box. It contained my childhood writings—poems, stories, journals, end songs–from as far back as fifth grade. (There wasn’t as much material as you might suspect… I daydreamed a lot more than I wrote.) I even found a lengthy document entitled, “Rules for Friendship Club Membership.” I’ve been wondering where that was! Perhaps my younger self could teach my older self some things after all.
As I scanned those old writings, I felt like I was someone else-standing outside and looking into the world that is mine. A feeling I’d had over the holidays began to grow words. The words went like this: “I do not have time to waste. I have to be present in every moment and in every experience. I have to take time to love, to enjoy, and to embrace the opportunities God has given me. I have to make memories, for myself and for others. I can’t afford not to. I simply do not have time to waste.”
It’s not a new or particularly deep idea, and it’s certainly a lofty goal, but it sounds nice, doesn’t it? I know I will falter in this endeavor along the way, but for the moment, I am challenged (and haunted) by it.
Perhaps as you stare out at your New Year, you might reflect, as I have, on how little time we have this side of Eternity, and the countless ways we could choose to spend that time. C. S. Lewis said, “…every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory…” May 2014 be a year where our lives are full, and the memories we make are beautiful ones—ones, perhaps, by which we will be remembered.
Back to Ginny’s Journal.