Seize the Day
by Derek Lin

Here's a puzzle for you: What do you see in this grid above? What do you think it represents?

Okay, it's not a difficult puzzle. The answer is "one year." The columns represent days and the rows are the twelve months of the year, so each day of the year occupies one square.

"Okay," you ask, "so what's the big deal?"

When I look at this grid I get a chill because I'm used to thinking about one year as a long time. Chances are, you do too. But when a year is represented like this, and you can see every day of the year at a glance, suddenly a year doesn't seem so long anymore.

This grid is the layout of a typical table blotter calendar that you can find in any office supply store. It's quite an ordinary, everyday thing. Why should it be any different from a regular yearly calendar that shows the same thing month by month? I'm not sure. Perhaps it is because we've also been conditioned to think of a month as a long time. Perhaps the irregular number of days in a month and the space between months all contribute to that illusion.

In any event, confronting the grid and contemplating its meaning is a sobering experience for me. You cross out a square with each day passes, and no power in Heaven or Earth can bring that day back for you. Once it's gone, it's gone forever. And when another year has passed, all the squares will be crossed out, irrevocably lost. You move on to another grid.

How many more grids do you have? For me, perhaps forty more, if I am lucky. And what is the number forty? It can be expressed as a five-by-eight matrix. The number of table blotters I have left fill the matrix, representing my life. With the passing of each year, one square from this tiny matrix disappears, never to exist again.

If I am lucky. If not, then my matrix - yours too - contains considerably less squares. For all I know I may have just a few more table blotters remaining. The same is true for you.

When you see it this way, you come to the inescapable conclusion that, indeed, life is too short. We hear this platitude so frequently, it has all but lost its power. But now, seen from a fresh angle, the message regains its dark potency. We, all of us, really don't have that much time in this plane of existence. If life is a lesson, it's a crash course.