Time in a Bottle: A Speech
[Last week, I competed in the Austin area speech contest of Toastmasters International, taking second place. Many have asked, “what was your speech about?” I always struggle to answer such questions, feeling like my answer will sound incredibly trite. It makes more sense to share the speech, and hope that the stories there in convey and elicit an emotion or a thought. Thus without further ado…I present my speech, “Time in a Bottle.”]
In 1972, Jim Croce penned the unfogettable lyric…[sings] ”If I could save time in a bottle..”
Okay, I’m no Jim Croce…but there’s something so simple, universal and resonant about the lyric… the desire to capture the best moments of our lives and preserve the time we have with loved ones forever.
A few weeks ago, my wife Michelle and I took the kids to Disney World. We traveled all day, taking two planes and bus to get to the magic Kingdom, and by the time we finally arrived, I thought our kids, Emily, 6, Lincoln 5 and Lorelei, 2 were going to pop with anticipation.
We boarded the ferry that ran from our resort over to Magic Kingdom, we made our way into the park, pausing a minute in Disney Town Square to get situated. As we turned the corner onto Main Street USA, there was Cinderella’s castle in all of it’s glory, the late afternoon sun shining on it in pure perfection. I’ll admit… I was speechless. My heart soared. Luckily, snapped me back to reality. It was the squealing excitement of my daughters who were jumping up and down with reckless abandon, convinced that all of their fairy tale dreams had come true.
But Lincoln’s reaction was a little bit different. I watched for a minute and he didn’t move a muscle. He was shell shocked, unable to process what was unfolding before him.
“Buddy, are you ok?,” I asked.
“Dad, this can’t be the best day of my life.”
“I just can’t believe it’s real. It’s all real.”
So began four of the best days I’ve ever experienced as a dad. Since I had brought the family to Disney World, I was a rock star. Disney World, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. We did it all. At the end of each day, as we tucked the kids in bed they actually said things like, “Dad, you’re the best dad ever.”
And, you know what? They were right! Because it’s easy to be the best dad ever at Disney World. It is a place where you don’t say “no.”
“Dad, can I have some ice cream?” Yes.
“Candy?” You betcha!
“Funnel Cake?” Let’s get two for the whole family!
You just go with the flow and enjoy it. Eat Disney in (because Dad has seen the bill and we ain’t coming back for a long, long time).
When we got back, people asked me, “do you think the kids will remember it all?”
My response was always the same, “I don’t know if they will, but I know I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
At least, I hope that I will. When we got back we gathered around the computer to look through the pictures that we took while we were there. There were some good ones in there, but they didn’t even come close to capturing the fun, excitement a joy that we experienced while we were there.
And this, of course, led me to a little bit of an existential crisis. What if I don’t remember? What if, with the passing of time, my memories of those four extraordinary days get muddled and and foggy. People always tell us to enjoy the time we have with our kids, and we do, but there’s this constant desire to capture every moment so that we can relive our experiences again and again.
This, I think, is the great temptation of our day. As technology has become more and more ubiquitous, cheap and accessible we have more opportunity than ever before to capture the moments of our lives, to put them in a bottle.
Think about this for a minute: have you ever been in the middle of doing something really great, and you stop what you’re doing to tell the whole world about it on Facebook?
Or, maybe, you see something incredible and you turn away to find your camera or activate the camera setting on your phone, only to find you’ve completely missed it by the time you turn around?
How many Dads have only ever seen their daughters dance through the two inch screen of a digital camera?
The other day, I heard an interview with George Clooney on NPR. They were asking what it was like to be incredibly famous, to be unable to go anywhere in the world without being recognized. He said what’s most surreal is that there is almost nowhere he can go where he’s not being filmed by someone. Everywhere he goes there are people with flip phones, cameras and other devices recording his every move. He said that sometimes he walks over to meet some fans on the red carpet and people don’t even have a hand available to shake his hand. They can’t even say, “I met George Clooney,” he remarked, “because the one time they got the chance they were too busy recording to take the time to do so.”
He wrapped up his thoughts with this observation…“I think we’re recording more but experiencing less.”
Are we trying to immortalize ourselves, to leave behind some kind of record that we were here, and in the great span of eternity we left some impression on something?
Are we just afraid that the memories of our youth will be lost?
Are we trying to show the rest of the world how great our live are?
I suspect that each of us has our own motivations and, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what they are.
But, implicit in this musing a call to myself (and maybe to you to) to be present first. Someone once put it this way… where ever you are… be there!
Otherwise, the only memories our kids will have is of us yelling at them to keep being cute so we can get the right shot, or to be quiet so we can share their witticisms on Facebook.
As much as we want to, the days of our life were never meant to but in a bottle. Life wasn’t made for recording. Life was made for living.