Between Us and Time

All is not well between us and time.

Time flies when you’re having fun; but, at the best moments, it seems that time stands still. But, the best moments aren’t necessarily the easiest moments, so that some people remember hard times as good times. Most of those who think hard times were good times are old-timers. Children like to hear about even older times than the old-timers lived through, so we tell them stories that begin, “Once upon a time.” In one of those stories, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen says: “Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.” These kinds of stories urge children, and the rest of us, to run fast so that we don’t run out of time, not to waste time, and certainly not to kill time; but, instead, to save time, to find time, but if we can’t find it, to make up for lost time, and, if we can’t do that, to make time—which, even though many of us keep trying, none of us is able to do; because, as my grandfather was fond of saying, “they’re not making any more time." So, instead, we try to manage time so that we have quality time with the people we care about. I know some people who have their best quality time when they get away from the daily grind, maybe at a time-share condominium. But, we don’t have as much quality time as we’d like because it depends on having at least a small quantity of time that can be turned into quality time but all the overtime people work shrinks the amount of time they have for anything outside of work. Overtime seems unavoidable, though, because “time is money.” For a lot of us, time’s up before we are able to call time out, so we have hardly any down time at all. Do you ever feel like you’re doing time?

Or, maybe you feel like you are suffering from “hurry sickness.” The term “Hurry Sickness” was coined in the 1950s by cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman; eventually (by 1959) they said that the people most likely to suffer from hurry sickness were what they called, in a phrase we have all heard, “Type A” personalities. “Type As,” they said, have a “harrying sense of time urgency.” “Hurry sickness” comes from an overdose of stress and anxiety; it is living on high alert, on internal adrenaline juiced by caffeine we add to it, in overdrive, and in the fast lane.

The Jewish and Christian understanding of time grows out of the gift of the Sabbath. Abraham Joshua Heschel called it “a cathedral in time,” a sanctuary of worship, rest, and delight in the midst of the distractions and distortions which dehumanize us. God commands us to obey the Sabbath, and like all of God’s commandments, this one is intended for our wholeness and flourishing. The Sabbath principle teaches us that we are not defined by our work, our productivity, and our status; we are not slaves to the demands of other people or the pressures which arise from our own brokenness. We are, instead, defined by the love of God, a love which we celebrate and return in worship, which we savor in the gifts and delights of nature, and which we share in our relationships with our neighbors. God’s gift of time is patterned and rhythmic: work and worship, work and rest, work and delight. As God has designed the world, “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” But, with us, there is hardly any time for the things that matter. The trouble is not with time. As Pogo famously said, “We have meet the enemy, and he is us.”

Phillip Simmons, wrote his lovely book, Learning to Fall, while he was dying from ALS. Even with the limitations of the dreadful disease, Simmons felt the pressure of busyness. He wrote:
I think if we are honest with ourselves, we can agree that our busyness—whether of body or mind—is often a distraction, a way of avoiding others, avoiding intimacy, avoiding ourselves. We keep busy to push back our fears, our loneliness, our self-doubt, our questions about purposes and ends. We want to know we matter; we want to know our lives are worthwhile. And when we’re not sure, we work that much harder, we worry that much more.
Simmons identified the trouble with us that makes our trouble with time: we are hurrying to outrun our fears; we are working to ensure that we are worthwhile, and we are chasing a sense that it matters and that we matter.