About Time

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It’s the first day of my vacation in Shenandoah National Park. The day starts early, joyfully lasts and lasts, stretching into delightfully unplanned, wandering, free hours. A hike here, a drive there, a half hour given to photographing clouds, a long talk with my Mom over coffee. I am reminded of Harper Lee writing about summer, when children ”found the remainder of the morning lying emptily before them.”

It’s the first day of my vacation, yet it feels as if I have been here for weeks. Look how much has happened today!

  • I woke to a sleepy valley stretching in front of me and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with another wild view.
  • Reading on the balcony of our little room, I could take the time to reflect, question the essay’s building blocks, and write obnoxious notes in the margins.
  • I drove one of the most majestic roads in the world, windows down, feeling the wind ruffling my hair and smelling the coming rain.  Stopping at countless overlooks, wandering along random trails, taking pictures of rank upon rank of blue mountains through the wild flowers.
  • Seeing two baby deer by the side of the road, I pulled over and watched, experiencing time their way: full, unhurried, unscheduled.
  • Sitting on the balcony for the luxurious eternity of two hours, I watched the clouds change over the mountains: coming together and forming new shapes, unraveling, blooming in ever changing colors, disconnecting, travelling the sky and disintegrating only to be born again.
  • And now I write.  I write hungrily.  Without a glance at my watch.  As the sun falls behind the mountains, I see little lights born in the valley, at first one by one, then cluster by cluster, and string by a shiny string.

All of these treasures somehow fit into one day and it’s only 8:30 in the evening. A day is long and plentiful, and life is full and rich.

***

And yet, when I am in the city, the flow of my day and the way I experience time passing are altogether different. I wake up and go to work. There I hurry from one task to another, there I am obedient to the double tyranny of my to-do list and the emergencies of colleagues I am called to help. And then suddenly, abruptly I raise my head from the to-do list and realize that it’s getting darker outside. I look down at my watch and become aware of a stunning fact that it’s 7 in the evening.

What happened to my day? Where did the plentiful hours go?  Why did I not feel their passing, as I felt it in the mountains? Why was my day so incomprehensibly short, so compressed, why did the time collapse into itself?  What did I do with this day that has just departed from me, forever?

Yes, I have been unquestionably productive, I checked the boxes on my to-do list and on other people’s lists too.  And yet, when I honestly look at the price that I paid for this progress, it seems inconceivably high. I have gotten older by a day without noticing any of the day’s joys. I gave my day away. I did the exact opposite of what Annie Dillard advised: “Spend your afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

My husband once texted me a picture of the last rays of sun reflected in the glass of his office building with this caption: “That’s all I get of today.” He worked till 8 and checked all of the boxes. He sacrificed watching the sunset for that.

***

As I sit on balcony floating between the lights of the valley and the shapes of the clouds, by now dark and indistinct, with all remnants of pink and gold long gone, I wonder how many sunsets I sacrificed in my life and how many more can I afford to give away before I run out of sunsets.

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