Wednesday, January 19, 2011

To number our days

I started writing this post in my head yesterday (as you do...), which turned out to be a great long day of things not done in proximity to a computer and broadband.

It all began with the questions last week.

"Kor-kor*, when will you go to Australia?"

"Kor-kor, will you make me a calendar to show me how long more?"

The pudgy four-month-old baby nephew I left behind when I first set my sights on that elusive orange is now a lean, inquisitive ball of energy with a heart-melting, multi-dimpled smile. At the age of three and a quarter (as my father proudly told some old acquaintances yesterday -- "you're very precise," they told him), he's only just getting his head around the concept of time.

In the weeks before he was to begin his academic career at a local pre-school, he would ask a few times a day, "When do I have to go to school? Is it tomorrow?" (in various permutations, including Is it today? Is it Monday? Is it next week? Is it after Christmas?) Hence the appearance of the page-a-day tear-off calendar I solemnly presented to him, counting down to his first day of school.

Apparently, the daily ripping of the top page, the ritual of reading out the number and counting up to it on his fingers was such a success that he felt my approaching return flight required equal attention.

(That's what I tell myself; it sounds a lot better than "My nephew is counting down the days until I leave.")

And so, whenever I'm in the living room, it stares me in the face. A very tangible reminder of how much time I have left before I move on to the next stage of my life. How much time to spend with this small person who knows many wonderful things and who is a wonderful thing. How many days remain for me to see my family and friends in person, instead of trying to imagine their voices as I scan emails from across the distance.

Each time that little hand waved the calendar in my face with a gleeful "SEVEN days more, Kor-kor, you are here for SEVEN days more," I would cringe at the thought. I look forward to being back in Sydney for however long I find myself there, but I know there are also people I will miss dreadfully (or am already missing).

But then it reminded me of some ancient words I first read some years ago, words that I then began to echo in my own right.

Knowing that I have but a handful of days left in my birthplace, at least for now, is helping me to crystallise my idea of what this time should be. What I will do; what isn't worth my time; what I can achieve; what I hope will happen.

On a larger scale, it's how I've been trying to live for these past few years. It might be rather helpful if I had a tear-off calendar, too, like Keith. Unfortunately, I haven't been given the rather morbid benefit of knowing precisely how many days remain of my life. They may run well into the tens of thousands, if I have decades to go. But I really don't know, and maybe that's why I've come to see every day as being Day Zero. Even if I live long on the earth, I'm never going to experience this day again. I'm never again going to be positioned exactly where I am, with the people around me exactly as they are and conditions just so.

And so I find myself asking each day, what will today be? What am I being offered, and how shall I respond?

Because there may be seven or fifteen or three hundred and thirty-eight days left on some other calendar, but on the one that matters, today is The Day. The only one in which I can move and choose and speak.

And when I get to that Day, when I find there really is a solitary 1 on the countdown calendar of my life, I hope I will feel satisfied at having chosen well.

I will want to know that I had lived boldly and bravely, amassing riches that can't be corroded by the decaying agents of this temporal life. That I had loved well, for I have been loved well. That I had worked hard at what was established for me to do, becoming rich in experience and learning. That I had brought goodness to others. That I had danced joyfully through days bright and dim, and that my seasons in the darkness had purified, not putrefied, me. That I had stayed close to my loving Creator and praised him all of my days.

I can't come close to knowing that on my last day...

... unless I aim to know this in my every day.

A three-year-old nephew is a handy device for remembering how I want to live.

*Most Chinese dialect groups have an entire library of honorifics for every elder in the family. Since I'm my brother's only sister, my nephew gets to call me by the generic title allocated to one's father's sister/female relative of the same generation. I love that you can figure out how someone is related to you by how you address her. At least, I've got it nailed in Hokkien... any other dialect and I'm lost, back in the safe generic reach of "Auntie" and "Uncle" anyone.

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