Monday, December 25, 2006

Time's gifts

While chatting with my dentist yesterday while waiting for my mouth to numb up he remarked that he and his partners frequently had female patients who told him that they would rather give birth than endure a dental procedure. He said that he couldn’t understand how anyone would choose hours of labor over an hour or so in the dentist’s chair after seeing what his wife went through giving birth to their daughter. It seems that she was in labor for nearly 24 hours before her doctor finally saw that natural birth wasn’t going to happen and gave her a C-section.

This started me thinking. A hundred and fifty years ago both she and the child would probably have died. Through the first 30 years of the 20th Century my broken tooth would have only been treatable by going to some barber with a pair of pliers and having it pulled with no other anesthesia than a few shots of corn liquor, at least in the rural area where I live. If I had I lived on the frontier I might have had to endure months of agony while it rotted out and then possibly died from infection.

When we think of the passage of time we usually think in terms of how fast time seems to pass and of the losses time inflicts upon us. We grieve for our own lost youth and the sense of emptiness we feel when our children grow up and begin lives separate from us. The sadness we feel at seeing our parents grow old and feeble and eventually die. As we grow older with the passage of time the changes in our culture can sometimes make us feel like aliens in our own homeland and we know that time is passing us by.

However time also brings us wonderful gifts. When I met my friend the dentist more than 10 years ago he was still in college and had not even started dental school. His lovely wife was only his lovely fiancĂ©e in nursing school and their beautiful daughter was only a vague plan to “have kids sometime after the dental practice was established”.

Time brought him through school and into one of the fastest growing practices in the region. It brought them to the altar and delivered their child to them. The forward march of science and technology through time allowed her and the child to survive childbirth and allowed me to survive having my hand crushed in my mid-twenties. Survive with my hand intact rather than having it sawed off without anesthetic or antiseptic and having it cauterized with a red hot iron.

My other friend’s two wonderful daughters who I first met when they were 9 and 13 and I was their Sunday School teacher have been gifted by time and are now grown women with fine husbands and children of their own (a son to one and a daughter to the other with another son and daughter on the way – let’s also hear it for married White women reproducing).

The passage of time brought us central heating and air conditioning and chemotherapy and eyeglasses and laser surgery so that we don’t need eyeglasses any more. It gave us automobiles so inexpensive that virtually all of us who want one can afford one so that we don’t have to live our lives within walking distance of everything we need.

Time gave us radio so that we can know what is happening on the other side of the world before it is old news and television beamed around the world by satellites so that we can know what is happening on the other side of the world while it is actually going on. Then time gave us the Internet so that we no longer have to believe everything we see on television.

As we experience the passage of time we gain wisdom from experience and come to truly understand the old saying that youth is wasted on the young.

As time passes it does take away things we would rather keep, but it also washes away things that are badly in need of getting rid of. Think of it; the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have rendered little more than bad memories by the passage of time.

Time does both give and take away, but on balance it gives much more than it takes. If this were not so then each generation would be less than the one before it. Life would grow worse rather than better as the generations pass and every generation would view the past with envy as the Europeans mired in the chaos and misery of the Dark Ages looked back on Rome as a golden age.

It is only human to lament the things we lose to the march of the clock and calendar, but always remember to give thanks for what they bring as well.