Every so often, this poem comes to mind.
I first heard it years ago, when a young co-worker recited it from memory. Listening to her mellifluous voice, rising and falling in all the right places, I thought, How profound.
I’ve used it with students for interpretation, for inferring, for fluency practice, for the pleasing rhythm.
Mostly I just mull the truth of it, in its utter simplicity.
Especially the last two lines.
I’ve only just a minute,
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, can’t refuse it,
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,
But it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it,
Give an account if I abuse it,
Just a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.
Attributed to Dr. Benjamin E. Mays
You’ll bring your own interpretations, images, minutes to this.
I think of all the stories that hang in the balance of a minute. In the wavering. In the choosing. There’s always that minute before the accident, before the attack, before the kiss of human or substance, before the choice that cannot be unmade is made. In a minute, lives are created, lives are destroyed. Fortunes gained, fortunes lost. The young, often consumed with this minute, blinded by now, cannot see forward; the old, bearing the weight of all their minutes, look back, see them all too clearly, and sigh.
We do not choose our minutes. We cannot save them or store them. We can only seize them, endure them, waste them, invest them, or pay for them. A choice lies inside each minute, always, even when there seems no choice.
I think of the ripple effect of one minute’s choice, how it never affects just one person but countless others, spanning families, communities, cities, nations, maybe generation after generation. For better, for worse.
I see the news. I read. I hear people’s stories, every day. We live our stories, we make them, every single minute, by our choices, actions, reactions. In some minutes I pause, recalibrate, celebrate, breathe a prayer of gratitude. In other minutes I sink under the anesthesia of why.
Only a minute, come and gone, and we are changed, whether imperceptibly or instantly, forever.
And that line whispers to me, once more. It’s never far away, really.
Just a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it.