Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Time, Empty and Otherwise: Sunday musings…9/27/2020

1 Mountaineer. “Conquistadors of the useless.” Famed French mountaineer describing those of his ilk. Plenty of other groups and activities come to mind that could suffer the same label.

2 Sap. It is the American Dream to not be taken for a sap. Think about it. You take your place in line for the highway exit and some SOB flies by on the left, cuts in, and escapes the queue. You’re not sure if you hate him for being a jerk or for making you feel like a sap.

My car is broken. In the most 2020 of 2020 things the warranty ran out a year before I thought it was due to do so in January of 2020. I am now in the position where no matter what I do I will feel like a sap. Fix it and drive it? Fix and and sell it? A part of me feels “taken” by the dealership that sold me a car that barely made it to 5 years old. That the same dealership offered me $0.33 on the dollar of its open market value if I trade it in to them means they look at me coming and see “sap”.

Pretty sure that guy on the highway was a car salesman.

3 Time. The WSJ runs a column in its magazine in which “luminaries” weigh in on a single topic. This month it was “Time”. Two of them, Ayad Akhtar and Lily Cole hit on the top end of themes that I’ve returned to many times over the years and prompted me to consider time in the context of my life today. Akhtar, a writer, spoke about creating an “ever present now” while Cole, an actress I believe, was more interested in “empty time”, a gift that could be used to advance culture through open ended thought without the boundary of a deadline. Both were tiny little nuggets of wisdom, seeds planted that have germinated over the last couple of weeks and sprouted today.

Time is so often consumed in a rather mindless, programmed manner. The work week. Schools nights filled with homework. Flight schedules. There is very little mindfulness in following a schedule; it’s all laid out in front of you as long as you perform the simple act of awakening and leaving your bed. If you are good at what you do it is often possible to simply coast through, minutes and hours passing as do so many ounces of fuel powering a car on autopilot. It’s certainly not “empty time” in the manner that Lily Cole describes, nor can it really be described as an “ever-present now” per Akahtar since so little of your presence (beyond, you know, your presence) is actually required.

These strange times when we are obligated to live lives that are substantially smaller than our pre-pandemic lives have given all kinds of new meanings to “time”. For me time has sped up. Weird, eh? You would think that with so much sameness, so little latitude to move outside of my work/home orbits that time would slow down. Nope. Not for me. With few events (trips, for example) on the horizon to look forward to time just rushes on from hour to hour, day to day. I never really noticed how slowly time once moved when I was looking forward to something until there was no real difference between the hours and the days, no hour or day that had a “flag on the horizon” attached to it.

It appears that a life seemingly spent in near constant pursuit of discrete goals, which is suddenly devoid of flags to capture, requires a bit of rethinking.

It is important at this point in my thoughts to emphasize that my own concept of “empty time” may be somewhat different from Cole’s concept. Mine is very specific: time when I am both unaccountable to anyone for anything, and all alone (or accompanied by only little Sasha). Cole may include unstructured time in the company of others that is specifically set aside for “big thoughts”. Not I. “Empty time” is alone time. Time spent with little to no agenda or goals in mind but spent in the company of others, especially that spent with Beth, doesn’t fit my personal sense of “empty”, ever. Regardless of our agenda (or lack of agenda) time with Beth is the fullest and most fulfilling time I experience. For me, “empty” includes “alone”.

The unusual “pandemic gift” of “empty time”, time alone in which I am not responsible to anyone, have no requests or demands, is starting to seem to be a gift that must be repaid by eventually being fully present there in the “now” that Akhtar describes. Perhaps that means a new pursuit or challenge, or maybe a return to something prior that still has some meaning in the now. For the moment it is probably best to simply try to make every one of my “times” an “ever present now”. Best if I seek all of the richness that is there in even those times that are the same as they were yesterday, and the same as they will be tomorrow, in a long line of tomorrows that seem to stretch across what today appears to be a horizon without end.

These strange times will end. Flags will appear on the horizon once again; time will once more slow down each time we take aim and move toward them. Empty time alone will still be there, to be sure, just much less of it. Now is not so much the time to despair for flags unseen; it is time to prepare for one last stretch in which time of all kinds is once again the most valuable thing each of us needs more of.

Empty or otherwise, time always runs out.

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