Life as we build it 

2002 is over. Whatever people thought it might be, looking at it from the approach for the last two millennia, this is what it was.

We lived every day, woke up and ate meals, dealt with crises as they appeared on the horizon and took the bits of love and joy as they came; such, as always, is life.

Some people rang last year in and then never made it all the way through to the other end of it. For them, 2002 was the year that followed their dash, their end point, all they ever got.

Every Dec. 31 I wonder, even as the bells are pealing the turn of the year, for whom they will toll in the months that follow: Will it be me, or someone I love?

My grandmother, for example: at 94, her dash has been very, very long -- a great deal longer than she expected. She lives in a constant state of expectation at this point, waiting for a date to show up at the other end of it.

There was a date in 1908 that marked the beginning of her time, and another in 1926 that showed where her journey began with my grandfather. She misses him; maybe on the other side of that final, long-awaited number, past the end of her dash, lies an eternity together. I hope so.

It's at once terrifying and breathtaking to be borne forward on the river of time. The whole point is the journey, it's true -- but what a journey! What peaks, what valleys!

The sun is very bright and beautiful, and the darkness can seem endless and impenetrable -- until we come around a bend and see the light dancing on the water again.

We began 2002 hard on the heels of the worst national moment most of us can remember, clutching our handfuls of life under the shadow of destruction; now we end it the same way.

The shadow still looms large and black over our small, warm, light-filled lives. Life as we know it, as we cherish it and as we take it for granted, teeters like a vase on the edge of a mantle.

Really, though, all of our lives, every moment of each day, are perched precariously above the abyss. While the nations keep watch for the shadow, our own end may come soundlessly from another direction, creeping like the proverbial thief in the night.

One day, an actual date whose number has already been printed on millions of calendars, that we could reach out and touch with our finger right now, could be the one that waits at the end for any one of us -- or for a great number of us together.

Today, though, as it always is, is a time to celebrate what has passed before, to take stock of what is, as it exists in this moment, and then to join hands and face forward, looking ahead for what is to come.

This moment, for me, is one of needs fulfilled: I'm not hungry; I'm warm; there are pleasing objects all about me. I can, at any time, reach out to those I love and find them there, whole and beautiful and healthy and loving me back.

My life, with its joys and disappointments, is exactly as I have built it, for better or worse. I have many others to thank for the things that make me content and happy -- and no one to blame but myself for the things I lack.

Alysabeth Clements is a local performer and writer.


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