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Memento Mori

BY Simcha Fisher

| Posted 7/3/12 at 8:13 AM

 

The last few weeks of school almost killed us.  Our schedule was just unbelievable:  we woke up so early, had so many events to get to, had to make special treats and arrangements for so many wonderful, unavoidable activities, and had to stay up so late preparing for it all to start again the next day.  When, oh when would vacation begin so we could have some free time instead of being jerked around like a pull toy from one activity to the next?

Well, it finally did.  Sweet, sweet, summertime, with nothing to do but whatever we wanted.  How we enjoyed ourselves!

For about eighteen hours.  And then the kids started to go insane with -- not boredom, exactly, but confusion.  They were unmoored.

They couldn't believe it was only ten o'clock.  Is it lunch time?  Why isn't it lunch time? How much longer till lunch time?  Can I have a snack?  So is it supper time yet?  It's not that eating is actually so important to them; it's just that meals gave them an anchor, so they would be able to figure out where they were in the day.  These are kids who can entertain themselves pretty well, but they were having a really hard time making the transition from over-scheduled to entirely free.

Finally I figured it out.  Without planning anything extra, I just told them each day what to expect.  For instance:  "You can goof around all morning and watch one movie, and then I will make lunch, and then we will be cleaning in the afternoon, and then we can play poker with Daddy this evening."  Or, "I will be working in the morning, so you have to either go outside or in the living room.  If you're quiet enough so I can get stuff done, I will take you to the beach after lunch."  These plans I described were not actually any different from what we were already doing, but the kids did so much better when they know what to expect.

By now you're thinking, "What does this lady want, a medal?  So she tells her kids what they're going to do today -- so big deal!"

You're absolutely right.  It's no big deal.  Everybody knows that too much formless time, with no expectations, no goals, no limits, can be liberating and enjoyable for a while; but that eventually, we all need to hike up our britches and make a few plans.

Everyone does know this, right?  Maybe not.  I keep hearing that it's just a conservative myth that women suddenly wake up in their late 30's and realize they forgot to have kids -- and yet I keep hearing about things like this project:  the Wonder Clock, which is apparently (plug your ears, Caravaggio) Art. 

Mira Kaddoura, who designed the Wonder Clock, tells of the shocking moment when her doctor reminded her that, if she wanted to have kids, she should probably do it sooner, rather than later.  The thought had apparently literally never occurred to her before. 

"We were raised like we can do it all," she explains. "I was raised very much equal to my brothers; I never thought there was anything differentiating me. [That doctor visit] was the first time anything came up that made me realize, you can't have everything. If you want to have kids one day, you might have to change a few things, or consider it seriously."

So she designed a sort of belt thing, with a digital display that ticks off the years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds of likely fertility that remain to her (you can see her clock ticking here, or get your own app).  It's not, of course, a diagnostic or medical tool, since so many factors besides age affect fertility.

Kaddoura told [the Atlantic Wire], "It's not trying to come up with some scientific formula, because there is none." Instead, she hopes to open up the conversation, get people education about the topic, and make more information about it available.

Let's put aside for the moment (in the same way as I put aside, say, a sock that turns out to be disturbingly wet) the question of whether "something that makes people talk" is, by definition, art; and let's ask the more obvious question:

 What the heck is she talking about?  "Get people education?"   "Make more information about it available?"  It is somehow secret knowledge that ovaries don't grow back fresh and new each morning like Prometheus' liver?  Is it privileged information that women are mortal? I understand that wealthy, aging celebrity moms hide their struggles with infertility while privately paying through the nose for tortuous procedures.  But if generations of women truly don't realize that they have a time limit for making new life, then what else must they not understand about their own lives?

Let's not be misled:  whether Kaddoura knows it or not, this project isn't about people who are in denial about the limits of fertility.  This project is about men and women who don't realize limitations are what make life possible.  This is about men and women who don't realize that they will die.  Why else would you need to strap on an electronic device to remind you of something you're literally made to remember:  that night cometh, when no man works?

Because we can forget.  We're distractible creatures -- yanked around by trivialities and worthy causes alike, all of which help us forget that our lives are an arc, a story line, with a beginning, a middle -- and yes, an end.   Monks used to keep a human skull on their desks to remind them to get something done while they still have time.

I suppose the Wonder Clock is something along those lines.  At least it's a start.  But the point of the ever-present skull was to anchor our wills to the present moment -- and at the same time, to turn our hearts to God.  It wasn't just a reminder that our time is running out, but a reminder that Time itself is running out:  that we're not made for this world, but for the world to come.

The Wonder Clock may be a provocative tool to shake people out of their distracted haze.  But why make children at all, if all our lives are simply ticking down toward zero?  Making babies isn't just one more thing to check off the list while we still have time.  Children are a sign that love brings forth life -- that love will always bring forth life, even after the end of this world.

Remember that you will die.  Remember that you will live forever.