The Proversation

Reflections on the Passing of Time

Posted: June 20, 2019 by Brian Johnston

As I set to celebrate the completion of another orbit around the sun, I’m compelled to think about time. Time is the great equalizer. While none of us really knows how much we have left, we are aware it is finite. And even though this comes clear quite early in life, typically with the loss of a pet or a grandparent, it’s not until we are significantly older that the fact actually hits home. Youth is accompanied by a certain hubris of indestructibility that typically fades away gradually as we age. We have become better at fighting it with diet, exercise, and medicine pushing lifespans past 80. But at the end of the day, we all realize that the gift of life is actually the gift of TIME, and that the path for all of us ultimately leads to the graveyard.

What we all do with our gift of life varies widely. Some of us have at it, balls to Picasso, with a zest for living that comes at a cost. Others will live a life of discipline, denying themselves many of the most hedonistic pleasures on the basis that they are bad for you in one manner or another in hopes of staving off the inevitable for as long as possible. Ironically, some of them will die young while some of the former crowd drinks, smokes, and eats their way to a ripe old age. Life’s a real bitch that way.

It’s amazing how quick we are to exchange hours of our lives for something as fleeting as money. I understand that on a personal level, economics are about survival first—how do I get for me and mine? That makes perfect sense from a survival perspective. It’s just that I’m not certain that people ever really calculate the true value of an hour of life. Because if we did, I’m not sure how many minimum wage jobs would go filled on a day-to-day basis.

My father was the first person to suggest to me that I think about this. It may have been when I first started earning double-digit dollars per hour at a retail job. Raises feel a lot different at the lowest end of the earning spectrum than they do toward the middle, and I might have telegraphed that sentiment in conversation. He asked me a very simple question: If you had two weeks to live, would you show up for that job?

The answer came swiftly and maybe with a bit of incredulity—HELL NO, I WOULDN’T! Almost instantly my mind flooded with a list of things I would try to do in the time I had left, and checking out groceries wasn’t on it. I thought about the girl I found unattainable, the places I wanted to see, and the cash I had on hand. Instantly, I thought about the items on the list that were no longer viable and immediately tossed those aspirations aside, without hesitation, for the ones on the edge of attainability. I started forming a plan to make those things happen, and I did all of that in the blink of an eye.

Sensing this and taking note of the sobriety of the moment, my father then asked a second, more profound question: What makes those hours any different than the ones right in front of you?

WHOA! The point hit home like a sledgehammer: All time is precious and don’t you forget it!

And yet it didn’t. The next day I didn’t get up before the crack of dawn, buckle down with my plan to get the girl, go all those places, and do all those things on the list I conjured so swiftly. In reality, I proceeded with the same life I had, at about the same pace, doing about the same things as I did before I had my talk with Dad. At best, I took a handful more chances and seized upon a few more opportunities that I might have let slip by before the talk—and that’s giving myself the benefit of the doubt, to be sure.

I find no need to beat myself up over any of this. I’ve truly enjoyed my life to this point and the choices I’ve made, for better or worse, are my own. Whether I fritter away a hundred plus hours on some video game, sit on a street corner drinking cheap wine out of a paper bag, or follow a little white ball around after I hit it with a stick doesn’t really make a whole hell of a lot of difference. Nearly all of us will donate hundreds of hours of our life to some folly that gives us pleasure. It probably cannot be helped and likely should not be helped, either. We are what we do repeatedly. The best we can hope for is that we recognize this fact and make a conscious effort to ensure that there is some level of meaning in the things that we do with our lives. The most actualized among us are those that find balance between the goals we wish to achieve and the leisure we wish to attain before the clock runs out.

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