The Value of a Moment

Every morning when she wakes up, my 95-year-old grandmother says to my mother: “I wonder what temperature it is outside.” My mother always replies with whatever the thermostat reads as she is getting my grandmother dressed, groomed and seated in her wheelchair. But my grandmother doesn’t just ask the question once. She asks it once every two or three minutes. And she asks other questions. “What am I doing here?” “Why can’t I walk?” “Can you take me home now?” She doesn’t remember the stroke last year that paralyzed her left side and made her move in with my parents so they could take care of her. She does not realize she has dementia. And so she plies my mother with the same questions over and over, and my mother patiently and politely answers, every time.

I watch them and I wonder why my mother does it. What is the purpose of answering my grandmother’s ceaseless questions when she forgets the answers before they have left my mother’s lips? I think about this. My mother believes each moment with my grandmother is worth her full presence and participation. But why? Usually the value of a moment comes from the past or the present: Does this moment in some way build on the past or make sense of what preceded it, earning us some kind of reward, or does it fix itself in time so that we can remember the way things—and we—were? If it doesn’t have past or future significance, it is valuable only if we feel good in that moment, because negative emotions or experiences derive value from meaningful context. And if there is nothing we can get in return, does our action or inaction fall into a void of nothingness? Could it be the true test of altruism?

What if my mother ignored the questions? What if she left my grandmother to sit in front of the TV for hours or sleep instead of playing card games with her and reading to her? If my grandmother did not remember these moments, would it matter? I think that we can’t change the basic value of a moment—it’s a building block of time and humanity—but the way we treat it can cheapen and degrade it. If we use criteria like the past and present or some kind of reward to judge value, eventually, our moments will wear out our integrity…and then who will we be? I think we will all get to the end of our lives, like my grandmother, and be faced with just being alive moment by moment. Won’t we want someone else to redeem our moments by participating in them with us, according to an unseen, ungoverned value system?

As a writer, this is a bit tricky. I value my moments only if I can remember them. If I can’t, I can’t write about them so it’s like they have been half lived. And what determines my behavior and attitude in a moment is usually 1) if others are watching, or if 2) I can get something out of it, a reward (honestly!). When I see my mother telling my grandmother what temperature it is for the hundredth time, I know what I have to do: Treat each insignificant moment as being of equal value with all the others in our lives, because what matters is the present, even if no one remembers and no one hears. 

One thought on “The Value of a Moment

  1. Thanks, Andrea, for honoring your mother. Life is indeed lived in the moment, and each moment is a gift of His grace; an opportunity to trust Him and His sovereign purposes for our lives; an opportunity to receive His goodness and grace in our circumstances, to enjoy His peace, and thus to honor Him and His salvation.

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