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  • Writer's pictureCherie Calletta

A thousand days are like an evening gone: Moments from a marriage

courtesy photo

“And God will ask them: “What number of years did you stay on earth?”

They will say: “We stayed a day or part of a day: but ask those who keep count.”

— Qur'an 23:113

My husband and I were photographed many times during the course of our 22 years together. My favorite photograph of the two of us was taken at a church in South Carolina, during our engagement. He was an Episcopal priest, and appropriately enough, he is vested in an alb. I am in a choir member’s cassock and cotta, which is a white mini surplice that goes over the black cassock just to the waist. Those things always remind me of old-fashioned Christmas cards with adorable child choristers singing picturesquely on the front of the card.

In this photo he had just finished celebrating the Eucharist and we are outside greeting the people after the service. A parishioner unwittingly did one of the best good deeds anyone has ever done for me by snapping an impromptu photo of us. She then gave us a copy. It is one of my dearest possessions.

In this photo my husband is holding his Book of Common Prayer and squinting just a bit while looking at the camera; I am gazing up at him adoringly.

I look at this photo and I ask myself: “How could that moment have been 22 years ago? How is that possible?”

I look at that photo and wish that this one golden moment could have persisted and lingered throughout the entire time we were together … but of course, life gets in the way, and life usually has a mind of its own.

Then I think of the year when this photo was taken. Twenty-two years ago? How is that possible?

No, no, that can’t be. It was only a few short days ago. A few months at the most. But not 22 years … it was a day or part of a day...

The quirky story quoted above refers to a group of travelers: a few young men and their dog fell asleep in a cave. We’re not even sure exactly how many men there were.

When they awaken, they think they have been napping for part of a day, but in reality they have slept for 300 years.

The Creator asks them: “How long have you been here?” They answer: “Oh … a day, or part of a day...”

When they find out it’s been more than 300 years—and we’re not even sure about that, because the lunar calendar has a lot of quirks … the details of the story are deliberately cast into doubt.

Then we hear the familiar refrain: “We don’t know, but God knows best.”

There are so many things God knows and we do not know.

When I think about the years, months, weeks, days, hours and minutes leading up to some time just after midnight on June 5, 2022, I continually give thanks to the Creator that I did not know what was ahead on that day at that time. I could not have borne it if I had known. “God knows, and we do not know.” And thank God for that.

Another line comes back to me a lot these days. It’s from the hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”:

“A thousand ages in Thy sight … Are like an evening gone; Short as the watch that ends the night/ Before the rising sun.”

We hear these things in songs and readings; we get hints about time here and there in a great many sacred texts – in the Bible, the Qur'an, the Vedas... so many hints about the fluidity of time—but until you lose a partner, a spouse, or — God forbid – a child, you don’t really get this idea about time … you don’t experience it in your own body, that the clock and the calendar are really great big liars, and time is an illusion.

The Hindus call it “Maya,” the world of illusion. The 1999 film The Matrix tried to illustrate this concept. Some people got it. Many didn’t. I didn’t “get it” until June 5, 2022, the day I went downstairs to the TV room, one of my husband’s usual hangouts, and tried to wake him up so that he could water his garden.

My own sense of linear time is marked by that one moment. Everything that I recall is arranged around those few seconds. Everything is either Before, or After that snapshot of time when I could not wake him up.

I look at the photograph of us in our liturgical garb from 22 years ago... and I think, no, it can’t be. Twenty-two years?? Impossible. “A day or part of a day...”

Since that day, I make a point to tell everyone I encounter, from the custodial and administrative staff at ACCC, to the UPS delivery people, to taxi drivers, store clerks, family, acquaintances, former teachers, former students, current students, colleagues, friends, foes, fans, any and all parties I come into contact with.

There are two things you must do everyday:

One is: tell the person or people that you love, that you love them.

But don’t stop there. That’s too Hallmark-edly generic. Follow that up with a specific thing that you appreciate about them. Some trait or quality they have. Some chore or action they did on your behalf. Something concrete and very specific, because “I love you” is not enough.

When you point something out that is specific, the “I love you” takes on flesh and bone.

That is what they will remember in times to come.

And please, do this every single day, because you never know when the last time you see someone... will be the last time you see them—until we all meet again once we soldier past the great big lies that are the clock and the calendar. And as always — God knows best.

Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She graduated Saint Joseph High School in 1977, then graduated from Rutgers College in New Brunswick and went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002


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