“If I could save time in a bottle…” This rhyming, slightly goofy Jim Croce song, which characterizes time’s slippery personality beautifully, has been stuck in my head for days. As a kid, I knew every word by heart, but didn’t get it at all. Back then, there seemed to be all the time in the world.
Rome, with its nearly 2000-year-old Coliseum and columned Pantheon (house of all Gods), puts a whole new filter on time. During the century-plus it took to finish St. Peter’s Basilica, generations were born, lived, and died. The builders and artisans who started this renowned work of Renaissance architecture never got to see the finished product. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the Sistine Chapel, and even though he lived to be almost ninety, I’m sure he had so much left to do.
The breathtaking scope of Rome’s history–its tragedies, triumphs, joys, and sorrows–filled my heart with wistful sadness. Time hovered, out of reach, over the rain slicked Spanish steps and sparkled in the Christmas lights crisscrossing the Via Del Corso. The fact that we can’t stop it, or lengthen it, or predict it made me feel insignificant in this world as a whole–a blip on time’s radar–but also all-important to my chosen few. In the mad Christmas hustle, our little group held hands as we crossed an ancient bridge over the moss-green Tiber River, which flowed, placid and unperturbed, toward the Tyrrhenian Sea.
That night, comfortably exhausted from hours spent walking Roman streets, I tucked the kids into bed in our rented apartment. “How many more years are you going to live, Mom?” Adrian asked, his sweet face interested but not fearful. I felt compelled to come up with a better answer than “I don’t know” but that is the hard truth for all of us. “I’m planning to be around for a while, honey,” I answered, and his small arms reached up to encircle my neck.
The best I can do is live for today. To stay as present in the moments that weave together my unique history, whether the ancient Gods of Rome (or the one who rules it now) decide to make that long or short. Because, as is more obvious every time Christmas rolls around too quickly, there’s never enough time to do all the things you want to do once you find them.