Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Do Not Squander Time; That is the Stuff Life is Made Of"

 A couple weeks ago, while teaching a Prenatal class, my watch broke.

I've had a watch on my right wrist (I'm left-handed) since I was probably about 6 years old and got my first Mickey Mouse watch from my grandma.  I don't know if my obsessive desire to schedule out my days started as a result of that or if I was born with that tendency, but it's sure always been there.  I always know what time it is, I always know what time I have to be at a given place (my calendar obsession helps with that too), and I tend to be a good at predicting how long any given thing will take.  If I had a nickel for every time I looked at my bare right wrist in the last week, I'd feel a lot better about my financial situation!

The watch is fixable, thank goodness - it's another gift from my ever-generous Grandma.  I just have to find a good place and get it done.  I'm not completely without a timepiece, since every electronic device keeps perfect digital time and is there at my fingertips whenever I need it, but man, do you get used to a wristwatch!

Despite all of that attachment to time and to my identity as  a time keeper, there is a kind of freedom in not always knowing the time.  I have definitely noticed that I'm less likely to do time calculations in my head in certain situations - walking home from the subway, reading a book, eating a meal.  The watch is going to get fixed and come back to my lonely right wrist, but I hope that taking all of this into consideration, my mind will fixate a little less on using the time to plan the future and a little more on enjoying the present moment as it is.

Shortly after losing my watch, Marc asked me to watch Cast Away with him.  He loves it, but I remember being rather traumatized by a lot of the scary, devastating, sad moments, and the power of Tom Hanks's performance.  (He's a life ruiner, that one.)

As we were watching, I couldn't help but notice the overwhelming presence of the concept of time in the film.  As a FedEx employee, Hanks's character, Chuck Nolan, is forever giving speeches on the need for time efficiency in package delivery.  His girlfriend gives him her father's pocket watch for Christmas (that he ironically used in the South Pacific, where Chuck winds up stranded).  Once he is stranded, his watch no longer works, there's no way to tell time, and there's pretty much no need to tell time in any unit smaller than day and night.

Beyond these more obvious ways in which time is presented in the film, Marc and I noticed that Chuck's inability to comfort his friend with a sick wife, to properly propose to his girlfriend before leaving on his fated flight, and his inability to cut ties with work for his personal life all showed a man very uncomfortable with being in the present moment and being vulnerable.  The most vulnerable we see him is when he's proposing to his girlfriend, but even then he's outside of the car literally about to run on an airplane.  He's not taking the time, so to speak, to make it a true moment.  Marc even went so far as to say that as a consequence from ignoring the present moment, he loses what he identified as his life - his identity as a successful manager, a boyfriend, a member of an extended family, a friend.

"We live by the clock, we die by the clock," he says to his employees when we first meet him, and in a sense, that becomes true for him.  His old self dies when the clock is no longer there and he is profoundly changed by his experience on the island.

The implication is that our fast paced modern lives have gotten us way out of touch with each other and instead cause us to always rush forward, ignoring the importance of the present moment.  It's a powerful stance to take, with some truth to it despite its rather extreme one-sidedness.

I have found it in certain tiny moments rather liberating to not have the time right on my wrist when I wanted it.  It's helping me discern when I want it, to orient myself in my time and place and life and to seek out as a comfort, and when I actually need it - when I'm running late or need to check the time in the middle of a crazy kid's yoga class to see if I have time for one more game.  It takes me out, even just for one or two moments a day, from my own version of the giant, constantly present FedEx clock in the film that is presented almost as a god to be feared as well as worshiped.  It may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I've become more patient during my morning meditation, and less likely to open one eye and sneakily peak at my countdown timer to see how much time is left until I can rush on to the next thing on my to-do list.

I do plan on getting the watch fixed.  It's a lovely watch, it was a gift, and because I do still live in the real world and am not stranded on a desert island, I have some necessary allegiance to the God of Time.  Time is life - it's our gift, and we should use it wisely.  That doesn't mean we should be a slave to the clock, it means living with awareness.  I just know that when I put my watch back on my right wrist, I'll do so with a little more perspective and a little less attachment.

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