On Time

On Time
SuzAnne C. Cole

When I was young, I thought I had all the time in the world. But in this last third of my life, I assumed time would slow as my body did. Instead, it has telescoped, moving more rapidly than I would wish. Rising, I breakfast, exercise, check my e-mail, then am startled to find it’s already noon. I bring in the mail, return a phone call. It’s dinner-time. I accept that I have a thirty-year old son, and then he celebrates his thirty-fifth birthday. “Where does the time go?” has become my mantra, repeated far more often than I wish.   

What do I do about it? What lies ahead? Time as my elderly parents experience it now—  the past flowing into the present, and often more alive, more real, than the present? A sense of time out of control, spinning towards a future which can only be death? No. I resist, choosing instead to emphasize living in the present. This moment is never exactly like the moment that just passed nor will it be like the next one or the one after that. Something will have changed, even if just the molecules of air I breathe.

Change. Time is money, we say, as though at birth we each inherit a treasure chest, a storehouse of time, to which only we hold the key. Our fairy godmothers wave wands over our cradles and bless us:  “To you. . . and you. . . and you. . . is given time.”

How do you spend your time? I ask a new acquaintance as though she has what I long to possess, a pocketful of time, minutes as shiny as dimes, days as crisp as new dollar bills. Yet my question is foolish, ignoring the reality that for much of our life we are not in control of our time. School, careers, families, relationships, households—all greedily demand time, and to all of them we must dispense it, whether happily or grudgingly.

So we try to control time by measuring it. We praise people who are “on” time (as opposed to being late, or “behind” time). I remember my husband saying that scheduling himself to arrive for anything not on time, but ten minutes early, changed his life. Why? Because it gave him the illusion of being in control, of controlling time instead of time controlling him? Or simply because it lessened his stress? I appreciated his increased calm without being able completely to understand it.

Do we humans, the only animals as someone has said, who wear watches, bind time with our clocks and measures? Or does time bind us? Although we dream and write of methods of circumventing time, of traveling freely through time, backwards and forwards, unbound by chronology or history, in reality, time travels us—and always in one direction. Yet if we believe that direction is towards eternity, what is eternity except time that cannot be measured?    

Is time, in fact, a structure we impose, or is it generated from within? Once I stayed in a tent alone, for a period I knew by the rising and setting of the sun was a day and a half. I ate when hungry, slept when tired, walked when restless, sat in stillness when content. I learned through that experience that living in harmony with my own rhythm was preferable to living by a clock; I have done without an alarm clock ever since.

Recently, caring for my six-month old grandson reminded me of timeless time. He woke when he’d had enough sleep, seven a.m. that morning, and ate; we read, he jumped in his swing, had a sunbath, giggled at the dog, batted at a new toy, and chewed the box it came in before becoming drowsy in my arms with a bottle. After changing him, I tucked him into his crib where an instant later he totally abandoned himself to sleep. What a good idea, I thought, as I stretched out on a nearby couch. Did it matter that the clock said 11:15? No. We both slept for an hour.   

Killing time is not an option. Time moves on, like an interstate highway or a river. Although we speak of dead time, there’s no such thing, is there? Isn’t time eternal, the one constant in lives made frantic by too little of it? How could we kill time? Suppose I don’t get out of bed when the sun rises, suppose I lie there doing nothing, killing time, until sunset. Yet I have not succeeded; the sun has continued its perambulation across the sky, another day has come and gone, whether I took note of it or not. But suppose I become more clever. I fly to Australia; in so doing, I move from Tuesday to Thursday. I kill Wednesday. But only temporarily. Eventually I must return home, and I find Wednesday again; there are two of them on the return flight.

Time cannot be killed, only spent. So if I no longer have all the time in the world, I can spend it more wisely, using time rather than allowing it to use me. I can enter time that belongs only to me more often and minimize those times when I must be at the disposal of others. I may even give myself permission to waste time, which really isn’t squandering; it’s spending time as I choose.

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