My daughter graduates preschool today.
She’s excited for Kindergarten and thrilled to be a big girl. But she’s also sad that she won’t be able to see many of her friends anymore. She’s cried when she thinks about how much she’ll miss her teacher. We’ve tried to comfort her the best we can: by reminding her she’ll make new friends, that she’ll see some old friends at the elementary school that she didn’t get to see much this past year, and that we’ll come back to visit her old teacher and classmates. These efforts don’t really help too much, and I understand that. They never helped me either. The truth is, she will grow up. When we come back to visit, she’ll be older; in a couple years, she’ll barely be recognizable. On the other side of the coin, her teacher will get older too. There will come a point, if the visits continue, when my daughter looks at her old teacher and is struck by how old she looks (the same, of course, is true of her looking at us). She may not realize it, but fundamentally, she’s not just mourning the specific people and situations she’s losing. On some level, she’s mourning for the fact that nothing is forever.
It makes me feel like everything ends. It makes me wonder what the point is, if everything eventually falls apart and collapses. It’s easy to get fixated on this idea, and find myself sinking. Time starts to speed up; I can see it accelerating around me. I can turn around and find my daughter is a sassy 17-year-old know-it-all. I blink and she’s 34, with children of her own, and my wife and I are elderly. After that, we’re gone, and it’s just my children, and in another blink, they’re gone too. Little moments like a preschool graduation are snapshots of tiny instants in this rushing river. They make me slow down and take note of what’s happening at that moment, but paradoxically, they also make me acutely aware of the entire path: everyone changing, nothing staying the same, all rushing toward their end.
That makes me sad, if I let it. But there is more to the story. It’s not just that things end and things change. It’s not just that my life is finite, and when it’s gone, everything I’ve experienced disappears.
That rushing river, itself, is part of something more: a raging rapids that extends backward to the beginning of time, and forward to infinity. Laid aside the entirety of the cosmos, my life, my childrens’ lives, even the entire experience of the human species, is nothing but a flicker of lightning in the darkness. A split second of light, instantly forgotten. Seen from this vantage point, there are two ways to go: I can realize that absolutely nothing matters in the grand scheme of things, or I can realize that the scope of the universe – its incredible, mind-numbing vastness – does not erase the value of this moment.
Somehow, I get swept into that raging river and end up back where I started: looking at my daughter, smiling and radiant in her special graduation-day dress. Our entire experience may be a flicker of lightning, but that bolt is blinding. What comes tomorrow will come. What matters most to me is this moment.
I won’t say, “I never want to lose it.”
I won’t say, “It will never come again.”
It is here now. She is who she is, and I am who I am, and I love her more than anything. The existence of tomorrow does not negate the value of today. In all of the vast universe and the infinite expanse of time, I am here, kissing my daughter, bearing witness to the miracle that is her growing up. “Lucky” doesn’t begin to describe it.
In this moment, I realize the meaning of the word precious.