Ask anyone in the early part of the 19th century about our country, and they would consistently refer to it in the plural — “the United States are.”
After the end of the Civil War in 1865 of that same century, the comment would be singular — “the United States is….” Personal correspondence along with newspaper accounts bear this out.
There was never a record of a conscience decision — no vote, no surveys, no political mandate nor academic edict. Just a change in perception.
Prior to the four years and the six-hundred thousand deaths, we had been a collection of states. After the near half-decade of horror, we were a single nation. Perception. Powerful and with far-reaching repercussions; but perception none-the-less.
Our measurements of time are quite similar. As we age, we believe it to go faster. When young, it seems to crawl. It is forever before we get out of school for Christmas. Our sixteenth birthday and that much-coveted driver’s license seem eons away for that adventurous fourteen-year-old. Then with our mechanical passport to freedom in our hand, high school graduation seems to take an eternity to arrive.
Now, for those of us a bit “longer in the tooth” time seems to pass all too rapidly. It seems we just get down Christmas decorations and we are planting lettuce. The mower we stored for winter “weeks ago” is now being prepped for another summer.
Years pass in a quartet of seasons; months become as forgotten as the pictures on the previous pages of a calendar. Our plans for “next year” are coming more rapidly than we can comfortably prepare.
There are exceptions. Those challenged by disease, especially the ones described as “critical” and “terminal,” begin reviewing their life in twenty-four hour segments. It was a “good day” or a “bad day.” As well do the loved ones surrounding them.
And then these descriptors are no longer ascribed based on the temperature outside or the amount of much-needed rainfall settling upon our fields and in our hollows.
Now they are based on the amounts of uninterrupted hours of sleep we can string together. The quality and quantity of foods of which we can partake; digest and keep down. The acuity of our thoughts and the accuracy of our memories. Seconds become miniature lifetimes.
How sad that it takes such moments for us to more clearly weigh the true value of our time here. Even I began to write “remaining time,” though fully aware we are all working with “remaining time” from the moment we are first born.
Yet, too often it is when we suddenly feel the finality of a life approaching that we begin to place more value on much smaller segments of that period of life we’ve been given. Especially when measuring the time of someone we are about to lose.
Again, it is an unconscious decision to make note of these smaller, and now, so precious portions of that temporal allotment. Simply a shift in perception.
Pericles believed time “the wisest counselor.” Carl Sandburg the “…coins of your life.”
How sad that it takes the spectre of death for us to recognize the wisdom of the psalmist’s reminder; that today “…is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Twenty-four hours to serve Him; to enjoy His splendor. How will we spend such gifts?
“But what minutes?”mused Britain’s Benjamin Disraeli. “Count them by sensation, and not by calendar; and each moment is a day.”
Perhaps good counsel for us all.
By Rick Mansfield
(Rick is a seasoned storyteller and writer, and is always looking for new audiences. He can be reached at email@example.com.)