Stolen Time

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The rhythm of the
wheel spinning
The clay growing taller
Under my hands

Shelves once empty
Are filling with mugs
And bowls
and cheerful fat bellied
flower pots

Until the little jewel
Colored hummingbird
Crashes into the window
Across from where I work  

I find him in a heap
Shimmering chest
Rising and falling
In stuttered stops and starts

I hold him in
My hands
Flecks of dry clay dusting
his emerald brilliance  

His little body
becoming still
Then cold

A stone the size
Of my palm
Marks his tiny grave

I try to return
To the clay
But I can’t  
make it dance  

I kept looking up
Hoping to see
A shimmering jewel
Flying by my window

...

I have a friend, who I think is actually a saint masquerading as a commoner. She is one of those rare people who simply sees the best in others—who lives in a world of non-judgment. Many of us can value non-judgment, but it is a rare breed that can live it. It’s not something you can fake, but you know it by feeling when you are around it.

Every time I spend time with this friend I come away with a nugget of wisdom. On our most recent visit, she brought up the idea of “stolen time.” Her mother died when she was five, and my friend said, she has worked hard to use her profound grief around this loss to shape her life in a beautiful way. The way it manifests is viewing moments with loved ones as stolen time—the ordinary moments as something to be cherished and savored and celebrated.

How many times have I heard that it’s a good thing to practice gratitude? Truly countless times at this point. But hearing my friend talk about it earlier this month shifted something for me. It left the realm of “eat your vegetables” advice, and entered into a different stratosphere.

I’ve been an off and on meditator for the last fourteen years of my life. I’m in an on period at the moment, and so I’m using meditation as an opportunity to practice gratitude. Over the last fourteen years, I’ve spent two months living in an ashram and a handful of other weeks in similar settings doing meditation retreats. Each of these stints, I’ve been advised by teachers to create an altar for a home meditation practice. And I’ve generally cringed at the suggestion. But this year, I made one. Because it is helpful to have tangible reminders of the intention when you sit down to practice.

The most important reminder on my altar is a little plastic pig that used to belong to a dear friend’s son who died when he was quite young. His son and I share a birthday, and my friend gave me the little pig this past March when I turned 32.

The month before I turned 32 my friend had been in the audience at the Moth GrandSlam where I’d told the unconventional love story of my little pig Hamish, who I’d raised for a summer, bottle feeding him at all hours of the night and keeping him warm tucked into the bed beside me, all the while knowing that when Hamish was big enough he was destined for the slaughterhouse.

So the little plastic pig on my altar, reminds me, for many reasons, that life is ephemeral. That the only fundamental certainty of life, is that it will end in death. Some day. And that day could come far sooner than we imagine. And so, like my friend who lost her mom when she was so young I want to remember that each day that I have with the people and animals and places I love, I am operating on stolen time. That we are all operating on stolen time. And of course I can forget this wisdom immediately, and I can be annoyed by something inane seconds after leaving my practice, but then there it is: a little plastic pig, that belonged to a dear, young boy, reminding me to return to gratitude for the stolen time again and again and again.