When we are children, we seem to have all the time in the world. We play, we laugh, we dance. We are permitted the time to explore life.
As we age, time seems to dwindle, dripping away as we harden with age. We no longer have the luxury of time to play, laugh, dance, or pursue our dreams.
We have bills to pay, families to care for, and jobs to attend to.
Time becomes like one of those electric sidewalks at the airport. We race toward our gate, dragging our life’s baggage, aided by the moving strip, yet we still seem to get there at the very last second, right before we fly on to the next moment.
I don’t know if it is the chilly winter weather that seems to slow time to a crawl and speed it up simultaneously, the stress of the holiday season, or recent life circumstances, but as we shift into a new year, time is a present concern.
And I don’t think I’m the only one feeling this way.
The other day, as I walked through my town’s city market—a central hub where locals can be found having breakfast on Saturday mornings and familiar faces both comfort and provoke anxiety—I bumped into an old high school friend. We talked about careers and family, and as we spoke, he talked about how busy he was. Once he got home from working his labour job, he exhausted himself by decorating the house for Christmas. He dreaded the time it would take to strip the house of the lights following the holiday. I related to his sense of disdain for time.
It feels like we are always wrapped up in the pursuit of more, but with the ever-looming feeling that we have less time to work with.
Time becomes even more pressing when there are people in our lives who are ailing or aging.
On Tuesday I went to visit my grandmother. She just returned home from the hospital after having been admitted for a few days. My mother had texted me earlier that day to ask if I would go over and turn Nan’s “whites” over from the washer to the dryer. They had been sitting there for a day, “so they may need another run through the washer,” Mom wrote.
I stepped out of my car and walked up the familiar path toward Nan’s faded green house. The last time I had seen her we were talking across the table at breakfast. She looked well and she was stylishly dressed in a royal blue turtleneck sweater.
She was always well put together, a product of growing up during the depression, a time where she did not have access to the finer things in life. I remember her telling me that she had to put brown coloured cardboard in the bottom of her shoes so people behind her at church would not see the hole in the soles when she knelt to pray.
I knocked on the door. Nan called for me to come in. She was scrubbing her toilet. She told me she was concerned that it might have been Father Graham at the door. How embarrassing that would have been! I gave Nan a hug. She seemed much shorter than she had been just two weeks ago.
Thinking about my grandmother’s life from youth to elder solidified both the sacredness and physicality of time.
Today, a short two weeks later, I will be attending two funerals in one week: one for a close family friend’s mother and another for a close family friend’s grandmother—another reminder that our bodies are only on this earth temporarily, something we often forget when we are caught between meetings, guzzling a coffee, and rushing to chow down a bowl of soup in our car.
As human beings, we have always been interested in measuring time. We forget that measuring time is a physical practice. Before we had clocks we had sundials, and as we watch the clock change from one hour to the next, we fail to connect to the notion that we are still just watching the world turn around the sun.
Watching a clock is a less physical representation of time passing as compared to a sundial. Perhaps as we become more removed from the measurement of time due to increasing emphasis on digital time keeping, we are moving further away from understanding the gravity of time passing.
We have become suspended within a digital abyss of time keeping rather than being grounded by the notion that time is a physical entity.
I recently learned that most sundials are engraved with an adage unique to each piece. Generally these mottos refer to the seriousness of time passing. Embossed on the device, the words remind us to make the most of the short time we have here. After doing some research, the best one I have come across is:
Take the gifts of this hour. It’s later than you think.
Following these past few weeks of pondering time, I felt it necessary to consider ways to improve my relationship with it and come closer to recognizing the physical depth of the concept.
After searching on Elephant Journal for some similar articles, I stumbled upon an excerpt written by Jim Owens.
In the work, Owens discusses his relationship with the words of Zen monk Shunryū Suzuki:
“Do not say, too late…” ~ Shunryū Suzuki
Though these words are simple, they are potent.
Do not say, too late, to reach out to an old friend whom you have fallen out of touch with. Do not say, too late, to read those books you have stashed on your bookshelf. Do not say, too late, to visit with your grandparent and soak in the wisdom they have to offer. Do not say, too late, to be a more compassionate, kind, playful, loving person. Do not say, too late, to forgive.
What I am stumbling to say is that these words apply to many facets of life, and they encapsulate the paradoxically ephemeral yet long-lasting nature of time—the feelings of hurriedly grasping for more time while also attempting to savour and slow it down.
Time can be our most important asset, both in attaining goals and in a larger, more universal sense.
We all check the clock hundreds of times a day without recognizing it. How about building time into those minutes to be grateful? When we check the clock, we can take one minute to take a mental inventory of the things in life we are thankful for.
When we cultivate these little habits, not only does this shift the way our brain-patterns function, it also helps us to see how long 60 seconds really is. When we begin to understand that we have over 1,400 minutes in the day to be grateful, we can begin to shift the way we think about time, and make more room for the good things in life. Being mindful about how we spend our time allows us to maximize productivity, if that’s our goal, and also treasure those moments we have with loved ones.
We no longer rely on sundials to tell the time, but the practice of recognising time and appreciating it can allow us to come back to the physicality of time passing and ground us in our work to be of benefit.
In 2018, let’s get back to grounding ourselves in the visceral measurement of time through dancing to the beat of good music, reciting poetry that mimics the cadence of true speech, and diving into deep hugs with those we love.
Author: Cathy Boyce
Editor: Emily Bartran
Copy Editor: Travis May