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The gift of time

January 2, 2006

Celebrate the gift we all receive


I let a whole year slip through my fingers.

Like the sand I scooped up at the beach on my vacation, months, days, weeks and hours trickled away until they were all gone and I was left with empty hands...

I don’t have a lot to show for last year. I didn’t lose a pound or gain an hour. I didn’t save nearly enough time or money. I didn’t turn over any new leaves or completely shed any bad habits. I’m basically the same person I was this time last year.

I was hoping for a little more than that.


One New Year’s Eve, when my children were still small, we played monopoly for hours while we waited to light sparklers and blow little horns at midnight to welcome another year. As we counted down the minutes my son asked me why the night was such a big deal. Why, he wanted to know, do we have a party?

“Well,” I told him, “We’re celebrating because we’ve lived another year and we’re excited about what a new year might bring.”

He looked at me for a long minute and then asked, “But what if it doesn’t bring you anything?”

I laughed and hugged him and said that a new year, or a new day for that matter, always brings something. It’s just that we don’t always recognize the gift until later.

They were just words that tumbled easily from my mouth, the kind of things parents say to their children to comfort them or answer a question so they can move on to other things. I didn’t think about what I was saying, I just spoke.

Now, looking back at the year that has just passed, I didn’t do anything particularly brave, or daring or adventurous. I didn’t conquer any of my fears or slay any dragons. I didn’t change the world in any way. I didn’t change the people around me, and I didn’t change myself. So what, exactly, did last year bring me?

This time my son answered the question for me.

He pulled up a chair and sat down beside me at the kitchen table. As he ate a bowl of soup, he talked about his plans for traveling this summer. As he talked, I looked at him and thought about how much he has changed in the past year. He’s grown a lot. In a lot of ways. He’s beginning to plan a life on his own and away from me.

Gazing at my lanky teenager – always hungry and always eating – the years peeled away. I saw the cheerful, busy little boy who scrubbed the knees out of his jeans. I saw the imaginative pre-schooler who wore cowboy suits and boots and spent hours building forts in the back yard. I saw the affectionate toddler with blonde curls. Looking all the way back I saw him as a newborn, swaddled in blue blankets, and cradled in my arms. And somewhere along the way, I heard the echo of my own words: We don’t always recognize what we’ve been given.

I didn’t do anything big last year. I didn’t win any awards, find a cure for cancer or end the war. I didn’t do enough work around the house or on myself. I did what most of us do. I woke up each morning and met each day as I found it.

My mistake, at year’s end, was in looking at my empty hands instead of considering what I might have touched and held.

The gift I hadn’t recognized, even as I unwrapped it, was time. And you can’t hold onto that.

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country.