How did it get so late so soon? Nurturing our relationship to time

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” ~ Dr. Seuss

Probably because I will be putting away holiday decorations today, I woke this morning thinking of the advent calendar we had in our house when I was growing up. My mother had made it from colorful felt. The top was a green tree, and the bottom half was a calendar of numbered pockets. Every day for the four weeks leading up to Christmas my brother and I took turns reaching into the day’s pocket to remove an ornament my mother had carefully cut out, and sticking it to the tree—a bell or bird, a snowman or sugarplum or (our favorite, because whichever one of us chose it could put it at the top of the tree) a yellow star.

When all the ornaments were out of their pockets and on the tree, the next day would be Christmas. While I know that my mother must have felt rushed in her holiday preparations at times, my memory is of the long, slow, anticipatory counting of the days. One, two, three…

What is your relationship to time?

How many of you who are reading this fell asleep last night counting items on your to-do or resolution list rather than lazy sheep, and woke up not to roosters crowing or sunshine kissing your cheeks through a window or your own body’s coming to the end of a natural sleep cycle, but to an alarm?

Think about that for a moment: We awaken alarmed. From that moment forward, time calls to us from the bottom corner of our computer screen, our television cable box, our cell phones.

How did it get so late so soon?

Mad Hatter: “No wonder you’re late. Why, this watch is exactly two days slow.” ~ 1951 film of Alice in Wonderland

If you feel that your watch is chronically two days slow, the answer might not be to set it fast so as to be on time, but to take the watch off occasionally and think about time differently, about what it really means apart from the ways we try to quantify it, label it, carve it into pieces.

I’m reminded of a friend who, as she was in the last stages of colon cancer a few years ago, told us that she had stopped wearing a watch and had covered up the clock in her car. “Who needs another reminder of what time it is? I know what time it is when I leave the house, and any place I’m going has a clock somewhere.”

That was one of the last conversations I had with her. Her relationship to time was changing.

When I’m feeling stressed about time, it helps me to take a moment, usually before falling asleep, to strip away, layer by layer, what is artificial about time, especially when the thought of a particular year or month or day causes anxiety.

2012. Just a number. The Chinese and Islamic and Jewish calendars give us different numbers. The month. Just a name we give to one of twelve rather arbitrary divisions of the year, each not quite a lunar cycle. The week. Seven days. Might as well be two… or ten. Then the day of the week. Monday is different from Friday only because of how we choose to group and name our diurnal experiences. Even the time of the day is only a convenience to mark the journey from sunrise to sunset.

What are we left with?

The predictable change of the seasons. The daily rhythm of light and darkness. The input of our senses. The breeze touching our face. Our heartbeat. Our breath. The eye contact we make with the person standing before us.

What is your relationship to time, and how does it affect your writing?

2 thoughts on “How did it get so late so soon? Nurturing our relationship to time

  1. We have a similar advent calendar (felt, pockets and the wonder of velcro) depicting not a Christmas tree but all the players in the nativity. Along with the daily job of assembling the scene (Lily on odd number days, Erin on even), my kids each put a decoration of their choice on the Christmas tree in the corner.
    This was exactly about time: slowing down the rush towards Christmas and building anticipation instead of the total and instant onslaught of Christmas songs, Santa visits, decorations and tv shows that makes December just a blur.
    I’m sure we all feel it but commerce is part of what moves us along in a frantic rush, often without our consent. We are hardly finished Christmas, and in this house reflecting on the birth of Jesus, before we are (today on 3 January) being asked to consider buying Easter eggs and Easter hot cross buns (according to Sydney news reports this morning).
    The Christian church calendar, of which Advent is a part, is one way, albeit imposed, of helping to slow things down and to take things in their turn. ‘A time for everything…’ and ‘in season and out of season’.
    Enjoy the season you are in.

    • Thank you for offering a glimpse into your household! May you and your girls continue to enjoy and appreciate every moment of 2012.

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