Off the Clock

When I was a child there was plenty of time, in fact too much of it between now and Christmas, how a summer day could last until bedtime, and how LONG it seemed until my birthday came around again. I remember watching the glowing hands of my grandpa’s Big Ben alarm clock that he faithfully wound each night to keep at the bedside. When I slept over, I tried to catch the moment a second swept into a minute, the hands moving ahead in their orbit, one tick at a time.

As a teen I had to get up early to catch the bus to junior high, especially the year my sister advanced to high school.  For my 14th birthday, I received my own clock radio that kept time well into college. I hit the snooze button more than I care to admit, late for class and annoying my roommate, who did not have a 9:00. I felt adrift in time that was weighted toward the future, wanting to know if I was headed in the right direction for my life’s work, choosing one career among so many possibilities. I didn’t trust that there would be plenty of time, over a lifetime to find out.

In early marriage, Phil and I kept a digital clock radio next to the bed, with AM and FM band tuner, two alarm settings. I can see those digits glowing red, into the early hours when the radio clicked us awake to the voices of Jim Ed Poole and Dale Connolly. We started our day on the clock measured by the 5-day work week, counting down the progress until hump day, and finally TGIF.  We could see our future spanning a generous distance, way off in an era called retirement—when we would no longer be making payments on a 30-year mortgage. 

I am trying to live in the “now” noticing sensory cues that ground me outside of “clock time.”  

Oliver Brukeman, in his book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals explores our lives in relation to time, with the premise that even if you live to be eighty, how shockingly short that is.  He promotes a “cosmic insignificance theory,” that what you do with your life doesn’t matter all that much.  We should not hold ourselves to the unreasonable standard of a “well spent” life.  I love his urging of JOMO (joy of missing out) VS FOMO (fear of missing out). Burkeman asserts that although “planning is essential for a meaningful life, the future is both unpredictable and uncontrollable; by easing off our expectations that things will go as planned, we can begin to let go of anxiety.”

We had our annual review with our financial advisor and went over our plans for the year, studied the bar graphs and how they translate into our financial future.  I wasn’t interested in the span of linear time at the bottom of the colorful graph that reached to 90, the generous life expectancy used to calculate the end game, when you run out of funds.  I wanted to know how spending more of the nest egg in the next 5-10 years looked on the graph.  

Our contemporary culture stresses optimal time management to squeeze out every minute for the things we must do. What about the things we want to do? Torstein Hagen’s Advice on “Time” is not lost on me.  I haven’t booked the Viking cruise yet, but his message reminds me yet again that time is a scarce commodity, and we must spend it wisely. 

The increment I am having trouble with is one that is impossible to measure–“the rest of my life.”

The 17th century astronomical clock in Prague puts on an extravagant show of time in all its ways we have tried to measure our time on earth. Crowds gather on the hour to see four figures depicting vanity, greed, lust and death—enemies of time, to start the procession.  The clockface keeps the church calendar, phases of the sun and moon, the walk of the 12 Apostles, and images of the Zodiac.  The part to watch for is at the very end.  The skeleton (death) rings the bell and immediately all other figures shake their heads side to side, signifying their unreadiness “to go.”

Isn’t that how we all feel?  That our moments add up to a lifetime, and that the idea there won’t always be more time to live is a stark reality. I have to remember that I am not the only one that is dealing with finitude, we all share an ending as part of our beginning. I know I can’t totally escape the standard increments of minutes, hours, days, and weeks to manage a modern life. But I like aligning myself with moments in astronomical time—being aware of the phases of the sun, moon and stars to measure our shared passage through time, the cyclical nature of the seasons, tied to birth and death. 

6 thoughts on “Off the Clock

  1. Very thoughtful blog, Debra! So important to shut down all the noise and live in the present. Love JOMO! Love you!


  2. Debra,
    I love that you cited Oliver Burkeman’s work; his message is so radical and freeing, provided I’m willing to challenge my own vestiges of resistance to being ‘productive’ and doing things that are ‘worthwhile’ in the world. One thing I do recognize from Burkeman is that focusing on using my time well creates pressure and dissatisfaction as I look at time as a resource to be controlled to ensure a better future outcome. So, then the present is just a stepping stone to the future. Yikes! I have to take a deep breath here and do what I love and what is possible–the things that count that I can actually do, I think I’m going to experiment, too, with your idea of using astronomical time as my ‘ruler’ to measure the passage of time……. thank you so much, Debra.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s