“Whoa!” my wife and I said to each other as we looked at this year’s edition of our childrens’ back-to-school photo, “When did they get so big!?”
Right around the same time, I celebrated another birthday. “Whoa!” I thought to myself as I blew out the candles on my birthday cake, “Where did all the time go!?”
Back when I was a kid, the one thing I hated more than anything else was the idea of having my own birthday party. I used to drive my mother crazy by refusing to have friends over for cake. Looking back, I can now see that my stubbornness was rooted largely in personal shyness and social anxiety.
Now, however, as I set out on my forty-sixth year of life on this planet, I still don’t like to make a big deal about my birthday, but I do wholeheartedly embrace the notion that birthdays ought to be celebrated as doorways into tomorrow. First days of school ought to be cherished as awkward and monumental leaps into a new day. And, the changing of the seasons ought to be cause for awe and wonder at the delicate cycles of life, death, and rebirth.
How we understand time can either be restrictive or liberating. Holding on to yesterday and any regrets we might harbor can keep us stuck in the past. Welcoming the newness and surprise of each day, however, can free us to learn, grow, and share in ways we might not have previously imagined.
“At least you still got tomorrow,” a kind stranger said to my daughter and me on what was one of my low points this past summer. We were in the middle-of-nowhere-Utah on our way to a long-planned for backpacking trip, when our car broke down. Thankfully, this kind stranger came down the road and gave us a lift into town. However, he also gave us something even more valuable, a new perspective. The past is the past and there is no changing it. What we make of tomorrow, however, is up to us, and in this case, thankfully, through the kindness of a few other strangers, we were back on the road and on the trail the next day.
Now, as the long shadows of late summer start to appear and the hot days of August begin to give way to the cool nights of September, I can’t help but reflect on the passage and sureness of time. Inevitably, just as something comes to an end, something new is sure to arise. Yesterday is sure to make a path into tomorrow, and tomorrow can never exist without yesterday, and in between the two is the present moment in which we all stand.
All of which is not to say that we ought not learn from and even reconcile with the past. However, from the first day of school to the first day of retirement, what lies ahead is ours to embrace, be challenged by, and even shape. In a word, from the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible, we can “choose life” each-and-every new day. We can choose to embrace all the surprising gifts that come with all of our tomorrows.