Time is Finite
"In Wreck on the Highway, my character confronts death and an adult life where time is finite. On a rainy night he witnesses a fatal accident. He drives home, and lying awake next to his lover, he realizes you have a limited number of opportunities to love someone, to do you work, to be a part of something, to parent your children, to do something good (279)." Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen
This passage about a song I was drawn to as a teenager caught me off guard. I used to listen to Springsteen a lot. Yet, sixteen-year-old me could not have understood the message Springsteen outlines above quite so clearly.
I have carried "you have a limited number of opportunities" ever since I finished Springsteen's biography over a week ago. Not that I am bean-counting time, but after forty-eight years of life, twenty-three years of teaching, and seven years of marriage the idea "you have a limited number of opportunities" is deeply personalized.
A little more than a decade ago, a high school football stood in the coaches room in front me and the rest of coaching staff. He was an excellent player who went on to play lacrosse at a very high level--for a perennial national champion. He was no slouch as an athlete and about as tough as I have seen. His shoulder has been separated the previous week. Even though he couldn't raise his arm, let alone lift any weight with it, he told the coaches every day, "I'm playing next week."
Fast forward to the tense hours between school dismissal and kick off on the next Friday night. The young man couldn't pass his physical with the trainer, yet (as we expected) he still handed the head coach a handwritten note from his father and mother that his son had their permission to play. A doctor said he couldn't hurt himself anymore. It just came down to tolerating the pain.
Strapped up in a harness that provided some support for his shoulder, he stood half-dressed in his uniform in our office. He could barely raise his arm. We could see him holding back any evidence of pain. It was almost an hour until kickoff. And he looked us all in the eye and said, "I'm playing."
In the moment, the best we could do was say, "We'll see. Get yourself dressed." Before he left, I asked, "Why? Where is this coming from?"
I am paraphrasing most of what he said as best as my memory will serve me. He told us he didn't know what was going to happen tomorrow. And that he did the math. You get about ten or twelve games a year. Most freshmen don't play varsity. Some sophomores do. On most teams, juniors and seniors make up the bulk of the starting roster. So, most kids get at best twenty games. And then that's it. Almost everyone who plays high school football never plays again. He did the math. The percentages are very low of ever playing again.
I am not paraphrasing this part. He said, "So, I'm playing. Because I can. You'll see."
And he did. In the first series on the field (less than two minutes into the game), he leaped high into the air, raised both arms over his head, intercepted a pass, ran it back several yards, and ducked out of bounds before taking a hit from the opponent. Among his teammates on the sideline, many slapping his helmet and jumping in celebration, he slammed the ball into the turf and screamed for his teammates to follow him.
I always admired that series of events. I remain proud that I got to experience it. I learned from it.
And now I am reminded again that time is finite. We truly only do get a limited amount (less with each passing day) to chase our dreams or to love somebody.
I think of my parents.
I think of my wife.
I think of my writing.
I think of living on a tropical beach.
I think of helping those who never believed they could write, write.
I think of helping those never believed that had anything to share, write.
And I think of something a woman said to me on a train between Paris and Madrid: "Americans live to work. The rest of us, we work so that we might live."