Time is what life is made of | OPINION

Life-spans are measured in all sorts of increments. For youngsters, it might be the length of a school day. Or a semester. Oldsters are aware of the span of time between one filling of multi-day pill holders and the next. Wives might tick off periods of time separating batches of wash or ironing.

Nature’s big clock ticks off planting, harvest, planting, harvest. An even bigger one marks 75-year chunks of time with appearances of Halley’s Comet. Youngsters live very long days. For Marysville third-graders, summer is an eternity about to come to a traumatic halt. To grandparents, summer is three fleeting months that leave them wondering how it could disappear so fast.

The point at which years begin and end depends on whether one’s biggest day is New Years, April 15th tax day, end of the fiscal year, Christmas, Easter or a  birthday or anniversary. For those who live for vacations, a year is the span separating the last one from the next one. The passage of time is punctuated by priorities.

The time for obsolescence to set in, say the time between 3G and 4G devices, is so short that owners of electronic gadgetry are still figuring out how to operate the last version before lusting after its new edition. Which brings up the most important question one might ask about time: How much control and discretion do I have over the minutes that make up my day?

We’re aware of the time it takes for a train to clear the Fourth Street crossing, the time between high and low tides on Mission Bar and of course the amount of time legislators spend campaigning, There’s another whole classification that lumps the DOT’s latest estimate of minutes required to commute into Seattle with the time spent trying to pass a jobs bill and the time a teenager spends texting. Bothersome time-stuff.

Years ago, I was involved in a program that paired teens with mentors of their choosing. When my young partner suggested that I was way richer than he was, I had to disagree because compared with me, his tank of time was still mostly full. My tank was below half-full and refills weren‘t and aren’t an option. When young, you think you’ll live forever so why do today what you can put off until tomorrow. Now, old friends’ obituaries serve as reminders that I’d better tend to business because that window of time is closing fast.

While time is without a doubt precious, it is also confusing stuff. People who study the English language mostly agree that time is almost impossible to define. However one tries, definitions of time loop back on themselves to say something like, “Time is the span of time between one event and another.” Someone once suggested that time is how God keeps everything from happening all at once.

It’s a rare person that can keep from squandering some of it. Evidence shows up in wasted opportunity or of not acting in timely ways on critical issues. Anyone trying to get into or out of Marysville at midday knows about this. Marysville’s circulatory system for traffic is rich in capillaries while its main arteries aren‘t up to carrying the load. Opportunities were missed. Someone should study the time that’s wasted in Fourth Street gridlock or waiting for trains to pass. My recent move to the top of Soper Hill put me one mile closer to Everett, but twelve minutes closer because of not having to battle my way out of Marysville.

The average teen is a shameless time-waster. Parents, note that I said, “average,” so relax. That takes your personal darlings out of the discussion. But those other teens should be forced to construct pie-charts that show how much of their days are spent sleeping, eating, preening, studying and messing around with electronic stuff. With the “average teen” processing 3,200 text messages per month, he or she processes 107 messages per day.

What’s most significant about those “messages” is their utter emptiness. Their time would be better spent relating to real things and issues. Of course kids will complain that this criticism comes from an old fossil who’s fallen out of touch with modern reality. Rather like the youthful bumper sticker that explains the output of a car’s sound system: IF ITS TOO LOUD, YOU’RE TOO OLD.

Let’s be generous here. Kids might simply be following the example of adult leaders — elected leaders. When the Guinness Book of World Records lists the U.S. Congress as the greatest continuous waste of time and public funds in world history (not actually), ordinary shiftlessness looks virtuous in comparison.

Ben Franklin said, “Do you love life? Then do not squander time for that’s what life is made of.”

Comments may be addressed to robertgraef@comcast.net.


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