Clippings: Making sense of time as clock ticks
I tend to stay up too late at night.
I watch sports on TV — the Red Sox every night in the summer, and then maybe when the game’s over an old “Law and Order” episode, with the computer on my lap. I check Facebook and send an e-mail or two to old pals, maybe even start an old movie and fall asleep on the coach for a few hours, before I go to bed, “climb the old wooden hill,” as my dad used to say. Fatigued as I am, I nonetheless am careful to take the pills that I’m told are keeping me alive, who knows.
I like that time of day, night, when I am alone and it’s still, not a creature is stirring in the house, usually so busy.
The morning comes too early.
The dogs are relentless, insistent, chained as they are to their circadian rhythms. They have to go out and pee, and then they want their breakfast and their walk, every day, without fail, between 6 and 7 a.m. In truth, my wife, Brett, does most of the dog-walking. Nonetheless, they wake me up! I’d prefer to stay in bed till 8 o’clock or so, practically noon in Vermont, but I have to pee too, again.
I think I’m reluctant to go to bed because I want to forestall tomorrow, with all of its obligations, hardly earth-shattering most of them. I’m alive, today, right now, and that’s a good state to be in; some days, most days, it feels good indeed to be alive, so I try to make today last as long as possible — I don’t want to turn the page.
Fred Neuberger, the late Fred Neuberger whose time ran out after a nice run, provided this nugget for me — perhaps you all know it: “The years passing are like a roll of toilet paper — the closer you get to the end the faster it goes.” Inelegant, but makes the point.
I didn’t realize I was afflicted with the terminal condition we all suffer, mortality, till I hit my 60s, and I didn’t feel it in my bones till recently. I have a fairly mild case, but Father Time is undefeated.
When I do get up in the morning, I usually embark on familiar and satisfying routines, at Sama’s or Steve’s or Greg’s or Rosie’s or JJ’s. I buy the newspaper, the Boston Globe, hard copy, two bucks, and I read it, and drink my decaf, often in my car listening to the radio.
I like to run into old friends, grateful that the people I used to work with don’t run and hide when they see me coming. When I was younger, and my life, outside of work, was hard there for a while, my colleagues saved me. So we chat, my old friends and I, briefly, and I am reassured, glad that I’m mostly retired and free of the tensions that are buffeting them in their work lives.
I was a poor English major at Middlebury (but a pretty good graduate student — I grew up), but I have always remembered keenly from freshman English Andrew Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress” and his admonition to keep in mind “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”
I wrote my dissertation on the archetype of the sporting hero in our literature, a figure abused by time, struggling with time, out of phase with contemporary life, sick with disillusionment, living in the past, Rabbit Angstrom, Biff Loman, and Tom Buchanan, thrown for a loss when their great physical skills declined, their place usurped by younger heroes, repeating their arc, rising and falling, generationally, over and over again, victims of time.
Who knew, when they were new, that Larry, Magic, and Michael would age and retire, their predecessors drop like flies, their successors come and go, different faces, perpetually young.
I spent last year in West Africa, the “trailing spouse” of a Fulbright Scholar. Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, where we were, is on the Equator: every day there the sun comes up at the same time as the day before, at about 6 a.m., and every day the sun goes down, at about 6 p.m., over and over again, day after day, amen.
The weather is also about the same every day, warm indeed, but not brutally hot. Dec. 1 is not very different from Aug. 1, or May 1, creating a kind of serenity, a sense that time is passing slowly, an illusion certainly, but reassuring, undemanding: time, there, in Africa, slowed down.
“And the seasons, they go round and round; we’re captive on the carousel of time” — the lines are from my favorite Joni Mitchell lyric from my 20s, a long time ago, and no time at all.
Back home, in Vermont, the changing seasons make me dizzy: a week of warm weather in the fall is followed by a deep chill, winter approaches and I must get my snow tires on! February’s false spring harkens summer’s approach — Argh, soon we will be mowing the lawn again! Round and round.
In June, we get 14 hours of daylight, but in December the sun leaves right after lunch. Change, momentum, rush, push, something always impending: “What’s the forecast?” we ask one another. “What’s next?” “How’s it going?”
I don’t think I’ll go back and live in Africa, to save time, but I do miss that deliberate pace.
Perhaps I will bump into you today, and we will chat pleasantly, about the weather — just wait, it’ll change, we’ll say, small talk, chit-chat, and we’ll talk about our kids, grown up or getting there, or the news, or sports — the Pats or the Sox or Panthers.
Better yet, maybe we’ll have lunch, enjoy one another’s company, a deliberate lunch, talking about the past and things to come . . .
And lose track of the time.
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