Consider the secret o’ life
Autumn is my favourite time of year. With its arrival the world becomes a glorious tapestry of brilliant red, yellow, and orange.
The garden begins a well-earned rest and the last of the sunflowers nod like solemn sentinels in the newly chilled wind.
This is also the season in most of North America when we “fall back” and return to the standard measure of time. In addition to adjusting all the clocks in the house, this exercise often invites me to ponder time itself and the human desire to manipulate its passage.
I got my first watch when I was 10 years old. It was a windup Timex with hands that moved and no glowing lights. Receiving that watch was exciting as it represented a step in becoming a grownup, taking my place in the adult world where people have things to do and places to be. I still wear a watch, albeit one with a battery, but the hands still move around the dial.
We are a culture obsessed with time. How frequently does one hear, I don’t have time for that; I don’t have all day; Where do you find the time; You’re wasting my time; and, Time is money, so hurry up.
Professionally and personally we often measure a well-lived life by how full our daily calendar is or our skill at multi-tasking. The modern world encourages us to engage in the business of “getting and spending” hours (Wordsworth) as if the time we have each day is a commodity that can be traded on some cosmic stock exchange.
For a number of years, I worked as a chaplain with dying people and their families where time was of paramount importance. I sat with those whose lives were measured in days, hours or minutes and found great variation in how they experienced them. As I reflect on those days I am reminded of the wisdom found in a song lyric from Secret O’ Life, by James Taylor: “…the thing about time is that time isn’t really real, It’s just your point of view, How does it feel for you.”
With some of those I cared for, time appeared to stop and they, as if reborn, were able to appreciate anew everything and everyone around them. For others, the ticking of each second struck like an indictment of missed opportunities to connect with and pay attention to, resulting in fear, bitterness, and anger that, sadly, they carried to their graves.
There were times in my work when I struggled to find something, anything, to say to people whose lives were irrevocably altered. The lesson I soon learned was simple: it was my unmitigated attention which spoke volumes in such situations when words and hurried attempts to find solutions would have been sacrilege.
Being truly present takes time and requires patience and courage. While this may sometimes be difficult or frightening, it enables us to reach the core of our being, from which all joy, love, creativity and resilience to deal with the challenges of life are born.
Each day, in myriad ways, we have chances to give the gifts of our time and presence. This may involve making a conscious decision to refrain from adding the burden of impatience to the young woman dealing with a difficult customer at Tim’s or acting on the impulse to call a struggling friend or relative, rather than sending a quick text. We all have the same number of hours available in each day, but it is our choices that determine the meaning and effect of those hours in our own lives and those of others.
So, on this day make and take whatever time you can to simply be. Truly look at the beauty of the leaves while raking them, appreciate the shifting colours and light of the autumn sky, hold the embrace of someone you love a little longer and at day’s end, remember this benediction given by James Taylor: “The secret o’ life is enjoying the passage of time.”