FYI, Jean-Luc Picard is the captain of the starship Enterprise in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the quote above is from an episode titled “Tapestry.” Picard begins the episode mortally wounded during a terrorist attack, awakening in a blank white nothingness and informed by a practically omnipotent being named simply Q --- whom he’s encountered several times before --- that the captain is dead… Q is God… and they get to spend eternity together. Given that Q is, despite his enormous powers, rather an infantile narcissist at times (is there any other kind?), Picard is less than enthusiastic about this turn of events --- and he emphatically disagrees with Q’s claim to be the Almighty.
Without going into too much detail about an extremely well-written story, suffice it to say that Q sends Picard into his own past to allow the good captain the opportunity to change it, thereby assuaging his regret at one event in particular. It’s a fantasy I think every single one of us has had at one time or another: if I could only go back and change that one moment, things would be very different. And so they would. Just not necessarily in the way we would like to think they would be. In Picard’s case, changing the one event makes him into a very different person from the one he remembers, and he’s not at all pleased with the change… which results in Q hauling him back to the blank whiteness and delivering the speech above. The episode title makes the point that a person's life is a tapestry, and removing or altering just one thread can profoundly alter the entire tapestry.
Now, there’s a couple of Moments of Truth and Clarity for you (the phrase is mine, bestowed on my young scholars when I show them several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and then have them write essays based on the themes present in each story): first, that all the people and events and moments in our lives combine to make our own, unique tapestries, and second, that we tend not to realize how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. We all know the cold, incontrovertible fact that each and every one of us is going to die each day. That’s an immutable truth. But we don’t like dwelling on such things, so we convince ourselves of the fiction that our death-day isn’t going to happen… well, forever. So we tend to waste a great deal of time doing things that we eventually look back on and realize weren’t very profound. Which isn’t to say that we always need to be doing deeply profound things, of course. The need for downtime, for recreation, is there for all of us. But I think most of us would also agree that we spend a great deal of our time doing really silly, inconsequential things.
So what do we do? Two things, I think. First, be conscious of the moment: realize that this day is unique and too precious to be wasted on things you don’t care deeply about… or worse, wasted doing things to “kill some time.” We need to be aware of each day as an opportunity.
And second, resist the urge to become sidelined because of fatigue or frustration. It’s an easy thing to do.
As Jack Lewis said in his marvelous book The Screwtape Letters, a peculiar thing about humans is that we seem to think the time we experience is our own to do with as we please. In reality, time is not something we can make, or retain… rather, it is a gift given by God.