If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do…” [Jim Croce]
In exasperation one day, my husband says to me “you have a dysfunctional relationship with time”. The pronouncement of his analysis, his finding, sounds so scientific, so clear, so final, it brooks no argument.
The clocks I have everywhere are ironic evidence that I can’t get enough of it – Time. There are literally three clocks in my study and at least one in every room. I have three simple but expensive swatch watches, chosen because they are lightweight, waterproof, have easy-to-read big faces, thin straps and I can barely feel them on my wrist. But still I remove them whenever I can, and so two are lost and one has a broken strap. So, right now, I do not have one on my wrist.
The reasons stare me in the face. Not the face of the watch. In the wristband. I cannot keep the watch on for more than a short period, perhaps 30 minutes, but mostly not even 10. There is always a good reason for removing it. I have to wash up, or bath the kids, so it might get ruined. Yes, it’s waterproof, but just in case, you know? Or the wristband – it is too tight, or too loose, so I remove it to bring some relief to my wrist. Or it gets too sweaty under it, and I have to give my wrist some air. Or despite how thin it is, it bumps awkwardly onto the laptop or desk as I type or write. So, I have to take it off, for comfort, for release from the pressure.
And so I lose track of time.
But I am extremely conscious of Time and how much has to be done, before it runs out.
Time does run out, like the sand in an old-fashioned, clinch-waisted timer. Each grain of sand is some thing. Some thing to do. And I try to get in as many grains, or get out of as many grains, what it is that I need to get done. Things as weighty as deep thinking, as light as dusting a desk, or picking up a piece of paper from the floor, or a feather left behind on the ground for my grandchild by a bird flying off.
My husband’s pronouncement, however, disturbs me. It rankles. It sounds true; it sounds so clever.
I use many of my left-over grains of time to ponder this. Often. Although it sounds true, I know it isn’t. But I can’t say why.
At last, I think of a comeback for him. It may seem a bit lame, I admit, but there is a grain of truth in it too, I think and smile smugly.
“Perhaps,” I say, “it is YOU who have a dysfunctional relationship with time?”
And my argument? I am an African. A South African, like my husband is. And in Africa, amongst other Africans, (unlike those who, somewhere in their lineage far far back in time, are of German descent – hint, hint, husband), Time is not ‘of the essence’. Rather, what is ‘of the essence’ is savouring, nurturing, feeding relationships with people, with one’s environment, and not with Time. This is what makes the hands of my clock, my grains of sand, move. This is what takes up, deserves, my time. And there is not a clock in the world that can measure this. They just do not have enough Time.
“And so what,” he responds, “if not being ON time, is disrespectful of other people’s time?”
Hmmm. Stumped? No. I realise that there isn’t a simple comeback. I’ll have to ponder a more complex argument. And what could that be? Only Time will tell.