I love watches. I must have over 30 watches. Ever since my grandfather taught me to tell time when I was seven years old I have loved keeping time. My mother taught me to be punctual for appointments and dates. I was always early and spent a good deal of wasted time, waiting on street corners for my habitually late friends. It is a characteristic that still shapes my life.
I think time awareness dominates American life. Everything is measured in hours, minutes and maybe even seconds. Lawyers keep precise track of their billable hours because time really is money to them. Plumbers and electricians all charge by the hour. In sports, we keep records of who had the fastest time. Most professional sports, except baseball, tennis, and golf, revolve around a clock and its timekeepers. I think that’s why baseball is no longer the true national pastime because it doesn’t move fact enough.
We all love fast foods, instant breakfasts and glance at papers, which measure world events in terms of sentences, paragraphs and not columns. Working mothers talk of spending quality time, with their children. Marriages have broken down because the couple never had enough time for each other. Some other commitment or interest had a greater hold on them than their marriage vows.
We have iPods, Blackberries and all time saving devices that paradoxically take too much time to learn to operate. We have become virtual prisoners of our own devices. As I get older I find that I do not like to wait for anything, whether in a movie line, traffic or the grocery store. Instant gratification is not quick enough for me. I won’t even buy green bananas. Part of this arises from the fact that I am not getting any younger. I am in the inevitable stage of what the late sports announcer Jack Buck used to call playing the back nine.
Time has become a subject for my personal meditation. I think of all the time I wasted as a child. When the poet John Milton lost his sight, he wrote a memorable line in one of his poems that said, when I consider how my light has been spent. While he measured his life in its “light” I find that time has been the literal measure of my life. One of the real facts of life is that time waits for no man or woman. It is not how much of the world’s wealth I may have amassed or how many honors I might have received but what good I might have done with the nearly 38 millions or so minutes I have “used” since my birth in 1943. I am sure God will have His accounting on just how I spent my time amidst His generous gifts.
Being an only child I always seemed alone and bored. I regret having wasted so much precious time as child. I guess that’s what George Bernard Shaw meant when he said youth was wasted on the young! As an adult I painfully recognize how really short life on earth is. To squander even a precious moment seems sinful when there is so much we could be doing—reading, praying, giving of ourselves or just enjoying this beautiful gift God has bestowed on us. My uncle had the right idea. He spent his retirement smelling both the roses and his coffee.
We all have a built-in time clock that is ticking just like one of my many watches. Just like John Donne’s poetic bell, it ticks for you and it ticks for me. My college roommate Peter died suddenly in 2004. I had written him a letter because I wanted him to know how much I enjoyed being his roommate and how much he had taught me. My letter was six months too late.
He was a year younger than I but his time had taken flight. He would never know how I felt about him because I had waited too long to tell him. I had spent his last few ticks holding back my brotherly love from him. I have now vowed to tell the members of my growing family and my friends how important each and everyone of them is to me because I don’t want to be six months late ever again.