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The gift of time

Every night right after the lights go out, our 4-year-old stands on a pink stool at the foot of her bed.

“I’m ready,” she announces with a grin.

Kneeling in front of her, my wife cradles our little girl’s face in her hands as she lovingly plants kisses on cheeks and forehead.

“That’s big enough!” our approving daughter declares after each smooch.

After my wife gives one last hug that lifts little feet, our middle child quite literally hops into bed and drifts off to sleep while my wife and I sing bedtime songs. In her giggly way, our daughter insists that Daddy’s hugs and kisses be distributed in the morning, not at night.

Watching the nighttime scene from a rocking chair, the thought often crosses my mind that one day our girl won’t want those footstool kisses. We don’t know when, but there will come a night when the beautiful ritual won’t be repeated.

Countless other special traditions that have grown up around each of our five children are also destined to become mere memories.

Pretending to be the Big Bad Wolf chasing little pigs? That will get swept away like straw and sticks. Giving horsey rides? Gone at a galloping pace. Swooping little bodies through the air while playing the Superman theme in the background? Bound to disappear like Krypton.

New traditions will replace those that are lost, but time will eventually claim those, too, in its relentless way.

It’s often observed that time moves more quickly as you grow older. Drawing on the work of Paul Janet, a French moral philosopher, Austrian industrial designer Maximilian Kiener points out that we perceive time relative to the absolute time to which we can compare it.

For my 4 year old, a year represents a whopping quarter of her life. At 48, a year represents a mere 2.08 percent of mine.

“Your summer vacation in your first year in college will feel as long as your whole 76th year,” Kiener writes in an addictive online digital project that illustrates the theory.

According to this line of thinking, assuming you live to 100, half of your perceived life is over at 7.

Parents – especially those of large families – often hear the adage that “the days are long, but the years are short.” With that in mind, it seems all the more imperative to make the most of the time God has given us. Especially with the start of the new year, when time almost seems to be “reset,” we have the chance to pause, focus and reflect on the moments we live each day and on the future memories we will create.

St. Isaac Jogues, one of my heroes, was always conscious of the gift of time and how he spent it. Soon after arriving in what is now Canada to do missionary work among the native peoples, the 17th-century Jesuit martyr wrote to his mother back in France. The words apply as much to us today as they did to those who lived some four centuries ago.

“So well must we use the time that is accorded us,” St. Isaac wrote, “that we must do that in our life which we would have wished that we did at the moment of our death.”

Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org.

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