Losing Track of Time

Michelle Stoll

My grandfather Amos, my mother's father, lived most of his life in rural Missouri. He was a farmer, an encyclopedia salesman during the depression, and a man who always took the opportunity to outrun a train. I have heard tales from my mother of how her mother would wail each time Amos raced across the tracks in their jalopy, a gaggle of children perched on laps and bouncing in the back seat. The jury is still out on which screamed louder, the train or my grandmother.

Despite the imminent danger Grandma believed her children to be in, my mother is certain they all loved the experience. They loved it like you love a roller coaster. Grandpa knew, of course, they were at no risk. It was a matter of timing, and Amos had an almost eerie sense of timing. One could argue (as I am certain my grandma did with much passion) that the greatest risk was posed by the unreliability of the family car. I envision this car as a calico of rust, wood, and spare parts resembling a combination demolition derby car and Beverly Hillbillies' truck. But my grandfather knew his car, and he knew the train's engineer. All the possible variables were taken into account the split second before he hammered the accelerator to the rusted out floor and vented a barbaric yawp, signifying his intention to cross the tracks in record time, safely and in one piece, his wife yelping like a run over over hound dog the whole time.

It was my grandfather who planted the seed of internal time in my mind when I was still a child. Grandpa explained that people used to live without watches, by keeping an eye on the sun and moon and the seasons.

"It isn't natural to work because it's eight o'clock, or eat because it's noon," he would say. "Eat when you're hungry! Work when it's time! You have to feel time in your bones, in your stomach, in your heart!" Grandpa said. "Do you understand?" I knew in time I would.

"You remember this, little one," my grandfather said, placing an old hand on my arm. "There will be a lot of folks tell you that time is money, but you better believe me when I tell you that time is life. Time is living, and make sure not to waste it on things that aren't worth worrying with, things that don't make you happy and do the world some good."

I may not have grasped all my grandfather was trying to tell me then, but he managed to plant a seed in my head that would germinate and take root as I grew. I cannot think of a time when I have watched the clock with a peaceful spirit. Always counting the minutes until, hoarding the hours before, stalling, hoping, praying for it to pass more slowly or swiftly. In this frame of mind a day is no longer a day but a disjointed series of hours, minutes, and seconds. There is no flow. I am not in time; I am fighting it, always running out of it.

So in an effort to come clean with kept time, I've unfastened my wrist watch and made up my mind to find a way to live with time that doesn't keep me up at night.

I am met with puzzlement and ire by people who think I'm breaking the rules by tossing my timepiece aside. "That won't last!" they warn me and assure themselves. "You'll be late for the wrong meeting someday, then you'll be sorry," they huff, tapping their watches. I expect someday someone no longer be able to tolerate my rebellion will hand me a nicely wrapped, ticking box. "You really need this," they will say and smile the salivating grin of a pusher about to hook another sorry soul, or an Amway representative about to make a sale. "Thanks, but I'm in recovery," I'll have to respond.

Naked-wristed now, time is more than ticks on a clock. It is more than minutes and hours. Time is a grand thing moving at once swiftly and imperceptibly slow. How fast the human life is past. And what an inconceivable length of time a mountain takes to be. There is the lifetime of a star, a planet, a solar system. There is the fingernail amount of time that is a fly's existence, the life of a single cell, and the entire human existence in relation to the birth of the universe. Time is so much more than a mere ticking away of minutes. Time is, as Grandpa said, living.

Watchless and starting to feel time pass in my bones, I'm at last coming to understand what Amos was getting at when I was too young to understand that time was more than what separated me from adulthood. I think what Grandpa was saying is that time is organic. We can divvy it up and section it out, we can try to hoard it or race against it, but all the while it is indifferent to any and all. It's slipping through our bony fingers and we're missing the point.

Time is not money. Time is not on our side or against us. Time is what makes up our lives. It's the canvas of our grandest failures and most profound dreams realized. It's all we have, after all. We live between memory and hope in a place e.e. cummings christened, "eternal now."

So, wear a ticking reminder if you must, but know also that time, life, does not live in the quartz powered bracelet accessorizing our eight to five lives, but in the smiling faces of our children and the tender touches of our mates. The minutes we dread and tally are the gifts we give to our aging parents and the joys we share with our old friends.

Do yourself a favor. Learn to feel time move. Turn your alarm clock off one night and resolve to have the time of your life.

© Michelle Stoll

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