The gift of time

It’s Christmas, the season for gift giving. Or, if you’ve taken a trip to your mailbox lately and had to bring a wheelbarrow or small dump truck, you also know it as the season for catalogs.
Now I can’t be too critical of catalogs. At least not without risking some pretty serious hypocrisy. I’ll admit that the L.L.Bean, Orvis, and Cabela’s catalogs do have a tendency to stall when they reach me before making it to the recycle bin. In fact, I usually make sure the new L.L.Bean fishing and outdoors catalogs (far and away my favorite gear catalogs of the year) stick around in our magazine basket for three or four months after Christmas.
Now I don’t actually need a new fly rod right now. I have an 8-weight saltwater rod good for salmon or stripers, my all-purpose 5-weight for trout and bass on medium sized rivers and lakes, and my little 7-foot 9-inch ultra-light fly rod for small streams and small trout. I even have an extra nine-piece, 5-weight travel rod for good measure. I also own a relatively new reel in each of those sizes. Nonetheless, I’ll still take a few minutes to peruse the selection of new rods and reels.
Then I’ll pause longer on the pages with waders and wading shoes. Unlike a rod or reel, which ought to last for decades — unless you break it in a boat, with a car, or on a big fish, all three of which I have done — even the best waders and wading shoes have a limited lifespan of one to four years depending on your use. They’re like car tires, that way, except much more fun to shop for. Of course I spend a long time on the selection of flies, leader, tippet, and new streamside gadgets. And, more recently, I’ve begun looking at fly-tying materials. That’s all stuff I constantly need to resupply.
And that only brings me through the fishing catalogs. I still “need” to look at the hunting, backpacking, camping, cross-country skiing, canoeing, biking, and general outdoor gear and apparel. I’m always bound to find a new special-purpose jacket that has features not found in any of my current collection of approximately 12 jackets. My current backpack dates back to about a quarter century to my college years, and I’ve been thinking for some time of replacing it.
We need catalogs. What they represent, we are told, is what will keep our economy going and our country great.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed my patterns are changing somewhat. It’s only a week from Christmas and I realized that I haven’t actually looked at any catalogs this year. None. I haven’t even gone online to the Sierra Trading Post website to see what’s currently on sale at 50 percent off. I’ve purchased a few items for friends and family at some of the local retailers. That’s about it.
What I’m really longing for, rather than more stuff, is more time. I think there is some sort of inverse relationship between the desire for time and the desire for stuff, with the former of these directly related to age. I remember when I was 13 my desire for stuff was very high. In addition to all the cool new games and toys I wanted, I was already into outdoor sports and longing for the expensive gear associated with those sports. I could have created my own catalog of things I wanted for Christmas. It would have been a very large catalog.
And time would not have been on the list. I had all the time in the world. A single day seemed to last about half a year. Especially if it was a day in one of the weeks leading up to Christmas morning. Now, by contrast, a year seems to zip past in just a couple weeks. Where did 2010 go?
Interestingly enough, the desire for time — and the gift of time — may actually be about the closest desire we can have to the infamous but elusive “true spirit of Christmas.” The roots of our current celebration of Christmas owe a lot to pagan Northern celebrations of the winter solstice.
As the name suggests, however, the holiday has been Christianized to become (historically, if no longer in practice) the celebration of the promised coming of the Messiah into the world. (“Christ” is just a Greek translation of the older Hebrew word “Messiah.”) Now the giving of physical gifts is certainly part of that tradition; it honors and remembers the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh made by the three Magi to the infant Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph.
For the most part, however, the central figures of that first Christmas — an essentially homeless carpenter, his wife and newborn baby, and a bunch of outcast and property-less shepherds, all living in an oppressed country in captivity to a large, militaristic empire — were all much too poor for any serious materialistic gift giving.
However that manger in Bethlehem held the promise of a much more significant gift: the gift of time. A whole lot of time. All the time in the world. And more. Time and life eternal and unending.
When I think back on 2010, what I remember and appreciate most had almost nothing to do with any stuff, any objects, any possessions, any things. It was the quality time I had with family and friends. Time that continuously grows more precious and more worth working toward. These days, I’ll take the gift of time whenever I can get it.

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