By Mikaela Carrillo '21
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
(Psalm 103:15-16 ESV)
Tía finds me in Ma's kitchen, hidden away reading while eating a bowl of avena, in that corner with all the sun and the big bags of arroz and random cans of Goya products. She tells me, “You need to teach your cousin how to tell time.”
She was always so adamant about things like that. Getting worked up over tiny things. You would eventually learn how to tell time, but until then a digital clock was enough. The basic, white analog clock hanging above my head in that warm kitchen corner was only a sound machine, a tick-tock of the seconds of those long summer childhood days marching away…
Away from our grasp.
Time flies away as I scramble to race after it, to chase at its heels, to lean forward like in a game of tag in a mad attempt to catch the back of its shirt, I grasp… and find sand in my hands, fine like the sands of Ocean Beach Titi took us to that warm, early August night just before I went away, the sand slipping away through the cracks between my fingers. I remember us singing along to whatever now-cringy song we thought was cool then. That was just yesterday, right?
But just yesterday I was tripping along these Providence sidewalks, head down, spirit low. Slugging along, 3000 miles away from home, I was wondering how the time had passed me by. How, distracted by the weight of academics and burdened by the peril of irrational fears and anxieties, I had forgotten to look up in time to catch time catching up to me and then passing me by, like a sudden gust of wind that comes from behind.
Or maybe I was too caught up in the “this too shall pass” that I forgot to ask, do I really want it all to pass? Ma passed on that cold January night, all of us gathered around her hospital bed. Afterwards I would hear of her prophetic dreams, of the ocean tide receding from her feet, her time on Earth being complete. She was with Jesus now. It was where she had always been meant to be. And yet I wish, like with the time that had passed me by, that I could have her back, that I could squeeze out every ounce of joy and goodness, never overlook a single thing. That I could get to know her not solely as “Ma,” but as woman, as survivor, as believer.
But she’s with Jesus now.
And in a different way so am I.
Tía finds me in Ma’s kitchen, hidden away reading while eating a bowl of avena, sweet with sugar and whole Vitamin D milk, topped with canela and filled to the brim. She tells me, “You need to teach your cousin how to tell time.”
Tell time to slow down.
Tell time to be considerate of others, to mind the pace we are walking and to stop hurrying us along.
Tell it to drag on slowly like those late mornings and long afternoons sifting through magazines and giggling in the waiting room, watching time tick… tock as we waited for Ma to get out of her appointment so we could go to Vinh Phat Market and get Yan Yans (the chocolate ones, of course).
But as much as I have learned how to tell time, I still can’t tell it anything it will listen to because time continues to tick away, and every feeble attempt I make to try to grab a hold of it, to tie it down, to control it and mold it and take advantage of every tick, every tock…
Time keeps ticking away, the present receding from my feet like Ma’s ocean tide that never returned. My very recent college graduation is already drifting away from my sight, and I am wondering how I got here. How the days of eating avena in Ma’s kitchen melted into summer nights at Ocean beach which drifted into this precise moment that is already the past as I speak of it. When did I become a college graduate? Is it not still 2008?
I still do not know exactly how to relate with time, although it is clear I cannot keep pace with it. I am trying to do a better job of living in the moment, giving thanks to God for all the things He has provided for me. My experiences have shown me that I have often gotten distracted by temporary things that blind me to the beauties of every day. I am trying to do better. Yet at the same time, I will never be able to squeeze out every last ounce of everything this life has to offer; and so, like with so many other things, I grapple with myself to find the middle ground—to savor the time God has given me here on Earth while letting go of my desire to control it.
The presence of God in my life, who ministers to me and who meets me through the turmoils of this passing time, gives me peace for all the ways I will never be able to fully capture the time I have been given. He reminds me that I am not in control—but He also affirms my heart’s cry that this life is fleeting and that the days pass away quickly. My cries are confirmation of the validity of His word, that my days are like grass and I am like a flower—here one day and, with a gust of wind, gone the next (Psalm 103:15-16). The yearning I feel in my heart to capture all of time and the grief I feel over the speed at which it flees from my grasp are reflections of the eternity that God has placed in my heart, but that I can only just taste in this life (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
And so I sit with the reality that I am a flower in a field (probably a wallflower), who appears for a little while and is gone tomorrow. And that reality wakes me up to the preciousness of life, but also to its fragility and to its brevity. I cannot put my hope in time just like I can’t put my hope that the weather here in Providence won’t suddenly be windy or rainy—for time, like the grass and the flowers, will wither and fade. My hope is found in God alone, who will never wither, who will never fade, and who will never change. As my Creator, He knows my yearnings and shows me how they point back to eternity with Him; He comforts me in my grief and walks me through the limitations of this life.
Tía finds me in Ma’s kitchen, hidden away reading while eating a bowl of avena, soaking up the rays of sunshine and the drawn out hours of childhood. She tells me, “You need to teach your cousin how to tell time.”
How the short hand tells the hour and the long the minutes, how 60 minutes make an hour and 24 hours a day, how 365 days make a year (usually), and how Ma got 78 of those before the Lord called her home, and how we have no way of knowing how many we will have of our own. As we grow older we learn to tell time in more ways than one. We learn how to literally tell the time, like on an analog clock; but we also learn how to tell that time is passing away with ever increasing speed, completely outside of our control. The pace of life can leave us overwhelmed and deeply frustrated as we wrestle with how to make the most of the time we have been given while also accepting that time flies away. I lean on God who stamped eternity on my heart and created me for timeless joy in His presence, but who, during these few short years of my life on Earth, walks with me through this land of temporality, shepherding me, and growing me deeper in my faith through the brevity and limits of this life.
I never did teach you how to tell time. I hope you learned—wouldn’t want you missing that flight to Providence just because you couldn’t tell time.
Illustration by Calvin Lee '24