Now, later, already, not yet

As I waved my parents back to their home around the block, I laughed, “Now I can knuckle down and do my homework.”

Instead, I picked up the pile of mail from yesterday. The stack I hadn’t sorted, because I get home from class so late. I sat down with it: circular>recycling, circular>recycling, circular-with-coupon>tear coupon, recycle rest. Magazine wrapped in polyfilm>remove the polyfilm for recycling, set aside magazine for later.

But it’s a literary magazine. I already have stacks of these, waiting for The Right Time, the time of brain-space, and quickening attention. The time when I can turn myself to others’ work the way I turn myself to a child speaking to me, all focus and timelessness. The way I wish others turned to my work.

This is not The Right Time. This is homework time. But then, some of the volumes in my stack arrived over a year ago. Rabbi Hillel the Elder’s words come to me: if not now, then when?

I know that this kind of ‘later’ is no time at all; my past (lack of!) action projected into the future foresees that the not-now for these volumes slowly crumbles into never. So today, I will skim. I will squint at the beginnings of all the poems, and maybe pursue them to their ends. I will pick one story, and mostly-read it. I will study the paintings. Perhaps for one of these I will smile.

It’s more than I’ve given to those other issues. Which makes is a more honorable gift than the one I keep meaning to give, but keep never getting around to.


Time fascinates me. How I deploy it, how I swim through it, how I measure it before doing, while doing, after doing. How others handle the same. And how, in some ways, all this remains, in M.’s phrase, the feet of the duck churning like crazy below the surface… while the world above is untouched.

My faith tradition is fond of pointing out that we Christians live in a time of “already/not-yet.” Jesus the Christ lived on earth, died, and was resurrected already, so our rescue has already happened… while at the same time we look around at our everyday, flawed (broken!) world and notice that full rescue hasn’t happened yet. Rescued now and also rescued later, all at the same time. It’s challenging to hold on to.

If God’s kingdom (realm, domain) encompasses what we have and are Already as well as Not-Yet, then… then each now and each later matters. Everything in God’s domain matters.

So sometimes I like to think about my nows and laters like… like printed polyfilm draped over the Already and the Not-Yet. If I twitch the film this way, do I see more clearly? Does it line up with the Already, or Not-Yet?

I would prefer to “do” perfectly, or (acknowledging my human imperfectability) at least “do” very, very well. But I’m forever thrown back on how waiting to “do it right” so frequently ends up not done at all. Which lines up… how? Neither Already, nor Not-Yet, but nowhere. Without even the dignity of Not Happening, Not By Me. I can’t be consigning bits to nowhere.

Better, I think, for me to strive to pause, squint, and decide: Yes? No? Already? Not-Yet? Now? Later? Well enough.

One thought on “Now, later, already, not yet

  1. You are doing what you were called to. Love getting to peek at the journey. This is a keeper-keeper for me. Thanks for letting us in to your mind-space.

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