In retrospect, the break between surgical procedures was not the best time to visit the Fountain of Time, the sculpture by Lorado Taft situated at the western edge of the Midway Plaisance within Washington Park.
Lying flat on my back on an operating table is not the finest warmup for a philosophical wrestle with Father Time. But with the U of C Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine only two blocks from the famed statue and a breath of fresh air much needed, off I went, bandaged face and wobbly legs aside.
It took but a moment for the monumental proportions of Taft’s vision of grandeur to embrace me. The wavelike procession of figures marching solemnly in resigned submission in front of the towering, shrouded figure of Time beckoned me to my place in line. Time looks on, dispassionate, indifferent to the despairing eyes of the queue of princes and beggars alike. Our destination is clear.
My visit to the sculpture left me in a state of peculiar quietude and back at the hospital, the second phase of the surgery under way, I am numbed before the anesthesia takes hold. The surgeon and the nurses faded from view. My body remained passive, but I was flying elsewhere, oblivious of scalpel and blurred voices.
Several days have passed. I am recuperating and back to full sway, noodling the NY Times crossword, attending a matinee, laughing at Netflix reruns of the English Baking Show. But from my place in front of the Buddha, riding lulling music and rhythmic deep breaths, I’ve returned often to Taft’s masterpiece and the astral space that surrounded me there. I relish the moments of quiet reflection. I have a lot to contemplate.
I’m thinking there is a corollary to be added to the axiom, “Live in the present.” More is required; namely, to “Live in reality.” Shucking past and future to be solely in the moment is essential but beyond awareness of the “now” I have a deeper appreciation of the uniqueness and relevance of the moment itself. I have a heightened realization of how fleeting time is, and short of an unanticipated FDA approval of cryogenic freezing, I shall not be the first 2,000 year old man since Mel Brooks.
What has come to me is the understanding that cheating death is not enough in and of itself. It remains the objective, to live every day to the fullest, savoring each minute as a blessing. But I’ve reframed the context, regarding each day as a single, achievable outcome within a longer term goal, to accept with equanimity the poignant message of Taft’s cenotaph, “Alas, Time stays, we go.”
This is not being morose; to the contrary, the goal is to think realistically about my final destination as motivation to make each day along the way a triumph in of itself. Instead of shivering in dread at the immutable phrase, your days are numbered, I nod my head in acceptance and respond, good reason to make each one I’m given, special in its own right.
I finally have a use for my long forgotten Wharton School Bachelor of Economics! The academics describe a goal as a destination, often open and unstructured in nature; and an objective as a measure of the progress that is needed to get to the destination, concrete in purpose with no ambiguity as to whether it has been achieved or not.
Translation: I’m going to die, but I just don’t know when. So until then, live every day to the fullest.
Or, to paraphrase the lovely poem by Henry Austin Dobson that inspired Taft’s masterpiece…
Keep my voice strong,
fill the woods with song to praise the rose and snow.
Accept the time will come on the forward way,
to fold our hands and pray.
For it is the paradox of time,
Alas, Time stays, -we go!