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Time

January 17, 2011

When I see young people struggle to read the library’s traditional wall  clock as they sign up computers, then give up and flip open their cell  phones, I wonder at their conception of time.

It must be a relentless thing—forever counting off toward infinity, or
the hour of our death, whichever comes first—as opposed to the
round-trip of the traditional clock.

Counting time in cycles that always bring us back to the top of the hour  has a flavor of renewal to it, of starting again.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter much if you’re just marking time between
scheduled events—such as first bell, second bell, math class, gym
class—but the understanding of cyclical time, and the feel of it, seems  to me an important part of life on Earth.

The standardization of time has been important for travel, science, and  getting people with busy schedules together, but its biggest impact on  our lives may be in measuring the workday so as to fit us into the needs of modern industrial society.

This has changed how we experience our days and thus affected our
emotional lives. There is one cycle most people know: Blue Mondays, Hump Day, and TGIF. Over and over and over. Too bad.

Even the familiar hour circumscribed by the minute hand doesn’t really fit us. “What? Already?” we say at lunch or while having coffee with friends. An hour was not always so strictly contrued.

“Hour” referred to looser notions of time, unlike the 50-minute hour of your therapist.

It was the Canonical Hours that brought this topic to mind. A friend
sent me a video about the Clear Creek Monastery outside of Tulsa,
Oklahoma—a new monastery with very old roots in France.

My friend has been sending them some money, little donations prompted by an unsolicited mailing from them that included a CD of the monks singing Gregorian chants. It wasn’t guilt about the free CD so much as he liked their story and style and enjoyed the music.

The story of the founding of the monastery is told around the
explanation of the daily hours of prayer practiced by the Benedictine monks. The services fit into a natural cycle of the day, such as Matins before sunrise, Sext at noon, Vespers at sunset, Compline before bed.

I had to wonder about far northern monasteries. The time between Vespers and Matins could be very short in the summer. But what a different feel to the day as opposed to watching the clock inch toward 5:00.

“… the time is past in which time did not matter,” said Paul Valery
last century. One must make a great effort to live in a way in which
time does not matter.

Actually, there’s a different master today: the cell phone. We check it more often than the clock for the next message or Tweet. It is a new measure of our days.

We now live outside the rhythm of the events with which we first counted time. We have created a reality in which time increments we can’t even imagine, much less perceive, actually matter.

In our networked financial world, for instance, time and timing have
determined fortunes made or lost with nothing real exchanging hands.  It’s real … but only because we agree it is. If we don’t agree, the reality vanishes.

However, the sun will still rise. And we’ve had some lovely sunrises lately.

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One Comment
  1. Vicky Lin permalink

    Dear Jeff:

    I have no idea what these young people are thinking about, besides computer and cell phone?

    I ask myself that what I was doing while growing up as a baby boomer in Taiwan? I just remember that when I read the words from former president John F. Kennedy, “do not ask what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country”, it touched my heart and had a very strong impact for me . . .

    One day, when I read an article of some newspaper, that author very sincerely asked more college students to water the arid land of children poetry of Taiwan; at that moment, president Kennedy’s words resounding in my mind, so I wrote the first piece of children poetry, and later it showed up in one newspaper; those words inspire me to write more poems for the children in my school days.

    I would like to share it with everybody, especially for the children; here it is —

    GROWING UP

    That day,
    In the aromatic garden, Flora
    Surrounded by angelets and flower wreaths
    With smiling face greets —
    Oh, babe
    Being an infant and ignorant spirit
    As if a season’s revivification
    So tranquil like a poem
    The soft eyelashes covered with
    The fairy-tale kingdom which the katydid weaves
    — A sweet, fragrant, round and faraway land

    Every night,
    It is mommy murmuring to gently rock
    Rocking lightly the babe is
    The rainbow palankeen of mouse kingdom
    Dream flies into the thumb-princess’s dimple …
    Lightly, tenderly rocking
    Rocking off aunty wind’s fan
    Rocking off brother sun’s silverline robe
    Rocking off sister moon’s pearl necklace
    Also rocking off time and season —
    The water wheel of woods has worn out
    The little aviary has been old
    The doll’s dream has gone to sleep
    Sleeping long ago —
    The childhood’s song
    Just like old, obsolete teeth
    Could not once again regrow
    Aya! Babe

    Vicky

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