If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

We read the poem “If” today in class. It’s an interesting poem and worth reading, not to mention thinking about, but given my age I might should have thought twice before teaching it in class. After all, to teach properly you have to think, and therein lies the source of my current state of…well, thoughtfulness.

So now, I’m looking around at what I’ve become, since I grew up. I was a fairly happy-go-lightly kid, given to flights of fantasy, especially when my Father wasn’t looking and I was supposed to be cleaning my room. (Yes Rai, you come by the distraction syndrome naturally.) But all that is beside the point.

I’m looking at what I’m doing with the time I’ve been given and thinking about how I’m spending it.  This is not necessarily as profitable or philosophical as it may sound. I mean really, if I’ve screwed up, even on a colossal scale, how much can I do about it now? Fortunately, and contrary to my thoughts on the matter in my early thirties, I think perhaps I haven’t done too badly.

I have been productive, if a little tardy, in my creative life. I have tried my utmost to use well the gifts I’ve been given. I have paid back, at least in part, the debt I owe the future for my past and, most importantly, I have loved. Not always well, or wisely, or even adequately, but I’ve done my best. And I guess that’s the point.  Even as I write this, it sounds a poor excuse, an evasion and a cop out, but perhaps it isn’t.

Maybe all we can really ask of ourselves and each other is that we do our best. It is certainly true that none of us can do any better than what is, by definition, the best we can do. The trick is to continue reaching and shaping, creating, attempting and striving, because though you may not always win, there remains a certain, beautiful symmetry in the simple act of striving.

The scary, aggravating fact of the matter is, we don’t know how much time we have in our life bank. We don’t have a read out on our arm that shows the minutes ticking down. (Or at least if we’re lucky we don’t, because seriously, how unnerving would that be?) So, with that in mind, maybe the best we can do is strive to attain Rudyard’s final measure of what makes, to paraphrase and modernize, a decent human being – to fill each moment with sixty seconds worth of a good life, whatever our definition may be, and live it with every ounce of our best that we can muster.

So, with all that in mind, I’m off to set up my bucket list. What’s on yours?


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