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  • Nathalie Weister

about time

Last January, while performing the difficult task of sifting through my mother’s belongings shortly after her passing, I found two small VHS tapes buried in one of her many storage boxes. I was instantly transported back to memories of my adolescence when we acquired this fancy new technology called a handheld camcorder. Simultaneously intrigued and reluctant, I was too raw at the moment to even consider a walk down memory lane. I brought the tapes home with me where they stayed safely tucked away on a shelf until a couple of months ago. A quick Google search yielded various options promising to digitize the content within a matter of weeks. I inputted my payment and before I knew it, a pre-labeled box arrived at my doorstep. I sent it off with the mystery tapes in tow and proceeded to forget about them until a recent email popped up in my inbox with the subject line: “Your download link is ready.”

|<< Rewind |<<

As a kid I was enraptured by the art of scrapbooking. Capturing beautiful moments on camera and the creative process involved in memorializing them captivated my attention for countless hours throughout my middle and high school summer breaks, which I can now recognize as my earliest experiences of being “in flow”. I was so absorbed in my project, time just seemed to disappear. I recall how beautifully tangible it felt – the joy of taking my rolls of film to a store, waiting days for their development and finally, like a kid on Christmas, unwrapping actual photographs that I could hold in my hand and shuffle through repeatedly. Likewise, I savored my annual trips to the craft store, where I carefully selected the appropriate hardbound book that I would proceed to enliven with pictures, stickers, newspaper cutouts, tickets, and more…all evidence of happy memories of the past year. While those old bulky scrapbooks consume a ridiculous amount of space as they deteriorate in my closet today, I cling to my nostalgia now that all my modern day memories are siphoned to the cloud – some impersonal and arcane dimension where digital information hides out of sight, only to be summoned for viewing through one of our (too) many devices.

It’s fascinating and somewhat ironic recalling the time I used to dedicate to the act of preserving my past; yet, as long as I can remember, I’ve been hurrying into my future with reckless abandon, afraid of arriving “late” to a self-imposed deadline to achieve the milestones on my life to-do list. Indeed, my relationship with time has been a complex one, and it continues to evolve. In his fictional book about Father Time, the first man on earth to count the hours, author Mitch Abom makes a poignant statement: “Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.” Oh, how that fear resonates for me, and once again I’m reminded of nature’s perfect order in which none of it exists. And while it is unlikely that I will resume my scrapbooking hobby, these old home videos reminded me of the fleeting nature of time as I perceive it and how moving it is to press pause on the metaphorical tape of life, rewind, and savor the moments past.

While the finite nature of time can be a prison of our own design, it’s also a profound blessing. It is the container in which we feel all the sensations of our uniquely human presence, ranging from agony to bliss. Time is also the anchor from which we create our future realities. Without time, there would be no evolution; no dimension for dreams or goals that provide direction and significance through the challenges and accomplishments that mark our daily journeys. Paradoxically (or perhaps quite cleverly, as the Universe will have it), I finally watched the resurfaced videos and I was transported back to a blissfully unhurried state, simply enjoying the moments and people right in front of me. I watched my innocent young self, carefree on the Florida gulf shore, basking in the sand and waves. I marveled at seeing my mom skipping gleefully as she collected shells on the beach. And I smiled as I heard my grandfather’s classic dry humor after more than 20 years years since his passing – my mother cackling behind the camera as she recorded him narrate his process of making gourmet “penguin wing” sandwiches for a picnic. The Chinese have a term, Hui Gan, which can be described most aptly as “returning sweetness,” or the finish, as one enjoys with certain teas or a fine wine. These videos were not just priceless footage of family that I will never again be able to physically embrace in my current perception of reality, but they epitomized the notion of Hui Gan. Just like that fine wine, I am relishing the flavor of those memories as they linger on my proverbial tongue and heart – an elegant complement to the enticing next meal of my life that is yet to be served.

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