The miniature grandfather’s clock in my living room has a way of harassing me about the writing deadlines that threaten the daily bliss of self-employment.
Everything is going well until each additional bell reminds me that an hour has slipped by without accomplishment. Hemmingway may be right, and the bell may toll for me, but what is the intent of its persistence?
Is it a bell that seduces me into my future? Or is the bell dragging me into, and nagging me about, my past failures?
Or perhaps the bell serves as a foghorn beseeching me to remain on the course set by the moment.
If so, I hear the bell announcing: “This is the moment you are given. This is the time. There’ll be no others.”
In fact, not to be gloomy, but the chimes ask a very scriptural question: “For what is your life? It is even as a vapor.”
The chimes remind me that life will end shortly and will take with it any chances I have of making this moment into something meaningful.
So to risk a cliché, I use the bell to ask myself, “What would I do if I knew this bell was the prelude to my funeral dirge?”
Asked properly, even the common tasks are blessed with new significance.
What might I eat? What might I read? Would I finally let Toby, my pesky pound puppy, soak my face with his salivating tongue?
If I knew this bell signaled my final round in my fight for life, would I become an ambassador for peace? Would I stage a sit-in to protest the war and end my midnight chaplain visits that carry the “regrets of the secretary of the Army”?
If it were my last bell, whom would I love? Whose forgiveness would I seek? To whom would I grant grace? Would I use the moments to make peace with my adult daughter who is finding no peace about her future?
Would I tell my aging mother I love her more than once? Or would I make certain that my brother, who displays many of the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, knows that God has always loved him just the way he is and so do I?
As we read this column together today, we are among the fortunate who have heard the next bell. Welcome to our future. We are here.
Now the question is, what has God blessed you with? What are you thankful for? And will you share these blessings with gratitude?
I believe this is what my clock is asking. It’s not harassing me for busting a deadline, and it’s not enticing me into a future.
It’s saying that we’ve arrived in the now. This moment is all we are promised. It’s time to live it. Be it. Absorb it.
And most important, as we approach the season of giving, the clock chimes are asking us to give someone our “now.” And since the now is all we have, giving it away may be the most valuable gift you’ll ever give this season.
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net.