Time. In the end it’s all we have and what we lose when the final grain of sand slips from the hourglass of our lives. In my favorite quote of all time (and that’s saying a lot), J.R.R. Tolkien tells us that, “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that we have.” I believe it. I live by carpe diem. I am appalled and terrified about the rate at which time is speeding up as I get older, whizzing by at an ever-increasing velocity by virtue of physical laws I neither understand nor wish to acknowledge. But time doesn’t care. It just keeps slip sliding away, and we are all one day closer to death. Wow, I’m seriously harshing my mellow right now. I’m still immersed in the Fever world of Karen Marie Moning. I know, it’s been a while, but I’m not rushing the experience. I’m enjoying it too much. I’m choosing to spend my precious time with her compelling characters in a world I wouldn’t want to live in, but that I love visiting. The book I’m currently reading, Iced, is focused on Dani, the 14-year old super-smart, super-strong, super-fast, superhero who says “dude” and “like” enough to set my teeth on edge. But she is so alive, so vibrant, so full of…everything. She is making every single minute count. She abhors wasted time. I agree with her.
Time is a funny thing. In our language we pass it, kill it, make it, do it, have it, fill it, use it, squander it. I’ve never understood the concept of killing time. Why the hell would we want to do that? It’s killing us, dude! And we need to turn the other cheek, not retaliate, because that’s just another way that time kills us. On the other hand, I’ve always approved of the colloquialism of ‘doing time.’ Because that’s exactly what we demand of those who transgress the laws of our society—we extract that which is most precious to them, their time and the freedom to spend it as they choose. There is nothing more valuable we can take away. I know for a fact that I would never survive prison. The thought of all of that useless, lost time would weigh on me to the point where I’d lose my mind.
Many of us focus on stretching our years, months, weeks and minutes for as long as possible. We don’t seem to worry as much about quality as we do about quantity. I couldn’t disagree more. It’s all about the quality of the time that we spend. I hope I won’t have to put this speculation to the test, but I think I would choose an earlier death instead of living longer in the state of pain, fatigue and sickness that characterizes the hideous choices we offer to cancer patients and others suffering from chronic, fatal illness. And I strenuously disagree with the American practice of spending the majority of our healthcare dollars on the last weeks and months of life. To what end? The answer is, paradoxically, to the end. For no discernable reason, as far as I can see. I am forever grateful that neither of my parents lingered for any length of time before they passed. They would have hated it, and it would have been an exercise in futility. Which is, by definition, futile, and therefore incomprehensible at some level.
And then there is the fact that many of us aren’t even spending the time that we have. We are living so far from the present moment that we’re not experiencing life as we live it. We’re thinking about yesterday—either about how horrible it was and how the world, our parents, the big boss, the school bully, etc. has done us wrong and needs to pay. Or we’re thinking about the glory days that are now in the rearview mirror, and the best we can do is take a walk down memory lane and relieve the good times. Or, we’re projecting into the future, my preferred time killer here. As Dani would say, gah!! No matter how many wise people tell us about the power of now, so few of us choose to hang out there. Partially because it’s hard to do, especially in a society that is so full of distractions from the now. But also because we are constantly thinking about how much better it could be, or should be, or would be or will be. I say again, gah!
And even though we are so concerned about longevity over peak experiences, so few of us are willing to do what it takes to add years to our lives and life to our years. Have you worked out today? Nah, me either. Did you enjoy the Big Mac you just scarfed down? I wouldn’t touch that crap, but I’m certainly not above enjoying my wine and chocolate beyond what could be considered true moderation. I know I should move more frequently and eat extra greens, but I only do so occasionally. Why? Because we seem to think that sloth and gluttony are more fun than work and abstinence. Go figure.
But it’s true. For me, the repeated engagement in less-than-healthy behavior, physical and emotional, is something I tell myself enhances the quality of my life and counts as a worthy use of my time. But that’s just my denial talking here. I tell myself I don’t have time, and I have no choices, even when I know that’s total bullshit. And then I hear about someone my age dropping dead of a heart attack, or I realize that I have fewer years ahead of me than there are behind me and I start to panic big time. And I berate myself for the paucity of good choices I’m making with whatever time I have. Tolkien would be very disappointed with me. And I promise myself that I will make every second count. And then I do, until the second comes that isn’t quite as perfect as I’d hoped or expected, and then I’m back to wanting to pass this moment, kill this minute, and get to the next one as fast as I can. Which at the rate I’m going, will be faster than Dani when she’s moving at super speed.
We don’t need to rush tomorrow. It will come. And it will go. And so will we. So, we need to ask ourselves, are we making good decisions with the time that we have? Am I? Are you?