Thursday, October 20, 2011


I run two miles in 20 minutes from 5:45 to 6:05 am.  That's what I do, on a treadmill in front of the early morning news, so in my mind that's what I can do.

But earlier this month, I ran about four miles miles in 45 minutes, on a country road in the north hills of Wisconsin. It was an opportunity to spend time with colleagues and enjoy clear, brisk air and extraordinary autumn colors.

I was quickly back to my 20-minute run.  Now I know: it's not about what I can do, but about time and circumstance.  On a typical day, twenty minutes is all I'm giving up to running.

I thrive on schedules and like them full.  Holding to them matters to me.  My day goes by more quickly, I feel more accomplished, and I know what to expect.  With a clear view of my agenda and the strategic goals  underlying it, I also adjust more nimbly to changes and interruptions.

But a changing perception of time has crept into my experience.

When my father died on August 20, time changed.

First, there was that day, a Saturday.  Before the call I'd bought groceries and had my nails done, which took about two hours combined and felt like two hours--the passage of time was identifiable and quantifiable.  After the call, moments both merged and stood still; time collapsed and expanded.  All at once.  It seemed then chaotic and confusing and yet in crystalline relief, and it's how I recall it now.  However illogical this sounds, it holds logic for that day.

That time had changed first entered my consciousness that evening, when I reentered the room in which I'd received the call hours before.  I saw my shoes on the floor, my full glass of iced tea on the table, my book open on the sofa, border markers of the Dina who had been there earlier and been lifted out of the scene into another time.  After.  At first I could not fathom how those items had arrived where they lay.  Before seemed too distant for its artifacts to persist.

Sunday and Monday filled with activity, but not on any schedule I had devised.  That existed somewhere, in Before, but it no longer mattered in After.  Funeral arrangements, people arrangements, family, rabbi, funeral director, medical examiner, phone calls, phone calls, meetings, phone calls.  And the funeral.  The family ushered into a room where we see my father's body, and suddenly I shift from constant movement to a halt.  A breathtaking halt.  Until we are in the sanctuary, and the pace accelerates, people come, they greet us, the service proceeds, we speak with love of my father, we move on to the cemetery, we're ushered home, people arrive, so many who loved my father. And so many who love me make sure I have what I need.  It's all decided what the pace will be, that's clear to me, I just wasn't consulted and have no inside knowledge.  So I follow, adjust, feel thankful that others know and I don't have to.

And from there, a week of a nothing-that-is-not-nothing punctuated by evening visits from those mourning my father and comforting us. Nothing but home.  And yet time did not seem to slow. Reflection takes time. Mourning takes time. They may not be on the calendar or fit a schedule, but they occupy time, and the time given over to them possesses its own texture, density and color, as though physical.  Mourning and reflection do not simply take time, they give it also, provide a gift of knowing time in a new way.  Painful yet sweet.

And Now I live in Before and After.  Appointments, full schedules, productivity.  Reflection, appreciation, sadness.  Speeding up and slowing down, sometimes it seems in the same moment.  Slow not equaling drawn out.  I don't know for how long this will last.  I expect that Now will become more and more like Before, but it's not on a time line.  And I can work with that, just as sometimes I can slow down, look at the scenery, and run twice as far.