A Parenthesis in Eternity

I've been thinking lately about the metaphor "Rainbow of Inspiration". It shines best when you're at the right place, at the right time and in the right conditions. It has an element of unpredictability, and like any ephemeral phenomenon we are reminded that this may be a one-time-only, never-to-be-repeated offer.

The more I think about it, the "Rainbow of Inspiration" also becomes an analogy for the human life. Our lives are like the vibrant arcs of colour rising through the sky. Some are brighter and longer than others, but each one is special compared to the monochrome emptiness encapsulating the breadth of our days.

I once heard author Wayne W. Dyer describe our lives as "a parenthesis in eternity", encouraging the reader to contemplate the great nothingness that stretches to infinity on either side of the passage of our days. I have since discovered that the original quote is from the English metaphysical poet and cleric John Donne, in his Meditation XIV (1624):

"Eternity is not an everlasting flux of Tyme; but Tyme is a short parenthesis in a longe period; and Eternity had been the same, as it is, though time had never beene; ...
... And what a Minute is Mans life in respect of the Sunnes, or of a Tree! and yet how little of our life is Occasion, opportunity to receyve good in; and how litle of that occasion, doe wee apprehend, and lay hold of!"

I've re-read the passage a couple of times. The realization that it's not our lives, but Time itself that is the "parenthesis" is quite overwhelming. Donne was a seriously deep thinker, and while this short excerpt is from quite a long, complicated piece, his message couldn't be clearer: Life is a lot shorter than we think, and in failing to notice and take heed of this fact, we neither treasure the special moments, nor make the most of the opportunities we receive.

When I was younger, 400 years was incomprehensible. As I've aged, the distances in human-lifetimes have diminished, and I can now reach back to John Donne and see him not as a semi-mythical historical figure, but as a real person, doing his best to work and survive with wife and children in the early 1600's. The tragedies encountered in his 59 years were much greater than anything I've experienced to date, but he was much more productive than I've been as well.

Although Donne's personal rainbow has dimmed and disappeared, ours has not. His words remain to implore us: if we are to make our mark in the world we must do it now, while we still have the chance.