I’m a little bit obsessed with it. So much so that I’m one of those dinks that actually still wears a wristwatch that’s functional, rather than a fashion accessory.
It’s eternal and unchanging, unless of course you happen to be traveling at the speed of light, or taking up residence within the jurisdiction of a black hole. Then again, if that applies to you, you’re probably not here reading my drivel.
But for all that time is eternal, we, sadly, are not. We get only so much time to operate with, and as miraculous as modern medicine is, it can do nothing to stretch that time out. (I just heard a story on This American Life about a cryonics experiment that went… horrifyingly wrong, all because people are determined to extend their time on this mortal coil. It ain’t happening yet.) Which means that it’s up to each of us to make the most of this non-renewable resource that’s been allotted to us.
So why — why, why, why? — are so many people determined to waste their precious time?
I’m not talking about relaxing after a tough day at work, or watching a few reruns of Seinfeld with your wife. Time spent relaxing, to a point, is not wasted time.
No, I’m talking about the in-between moments, the moments not specifically spoken for but bridging the gap between moments that matter. Driving your car. Walking from one place to another. Shuffling zombielike through the aisles of the grocery store. Moments you don’t even consider, but that end up swallowing up so many minutes — or even hours! — of your day.
I’m a teacher, so I see this one every day: students have five minutes to get from one class to another, and they lurch at the slowest pace possible from Biology to Math II. That I can understand, to a point — you’re not looking forward to sitting through another drone about the Pythagorean Theorem — but still. You eat up every possible moment getting from A to B, then you have to take extra time to get your business together, get your head right for sitting through another class… in short, you end up slowing everybody down since you wasted time on what? dragging your feet?
But that’s a student. That’s a kid. Who doesn’t properly understand the significance of the time he’s wasting.
How about this? You’re in the grocery store, waiting to check out, all your precious foodstuffs on the belt, and the person in front of you is watching the groceries go into the bag, or watching the numbers on the display tick slowly up… and then the cashier tells them, that’ll be entirely too much money, please. This isn’t even an old person, most of the time. It’s a thirty-something guy who looks perfectly ordinary, you know, not like an idiot. Or a twenty-something woman texting on her cell phone. Anyway, the cashier tells them, you know, it’s time to pay, and THAT’S when they reach for their purse or their wallet. As if it was a total shock to them that there was input required from them in this transaction. As if you’ve never been to a grocery store in your life, and you never thought that you’d have to lift a finger to get the food to your house so you can cram it down your beak.
How can you not be prepared for this? Sure, it’s a few seconds, but those seconds add up, and they’re not just your seconds, either — those seconds of your own hesitation get pawned off on everybody in line behind you.
I’m at the soccer match the other night. Match scheduled to start at 5:30. It’s 5:25. Teams are both on-hand, warmed up, ready. Officials are on-site and ready. Scoreboard is set for the start of the match. And everybody is standing around looking at one another. 5:30; nothing happens. 5:35; more milling about on the sidelines. 5:40; finally the teams line up to have their starters announced. 5:45, the match finally starts. Fifteen minutes late. For no reason! The fault could lie anywhere — maybe one of the coaches had to run to his car, maybe the on-site administrator had to deal with an issue and wanted the start of the game held, whatever. But that’s 15 minutes that a stadium full of parents and friends, two teams of players, an additional two teams who play after, can’t get back. For nothing!
We live in a society where, for better or worse, everybody overlaps with everybody else. I cut you off in traffic, you take it out on your husband later that day. You don’t notice the light changing and cost me the traffic light, I assign extra homework for the 90 students I teach. The repercussions of our every action echo outward like ripples in a pond. Yet again and again, I come across these people letting their time — AND MINE — dribble out the corner of their mouths like so much drool. Distracted with something else. Not paying attention. Just not at all motivated to put any pep in their step.
I want to grab them by their collars, shake them until their bleary eyes snap into focus. Impress upon them, somehow, the fact that while they shuffle through the hallways, while they blunder through the aisles, while they dodder at the stoplights, their time, like sands through the hourglass, is slipping irretrievably into the past.
It only takes a half second to look up from whatever’s right in front of you and remember that your actions impact the world all around you. Is it so much to ask that we do so? In fact, if you are alert and aware and moving through your life with purpose and vigor, you actually gain time… what would have been wasted can then be applied to other, more important things. Is it ridiculous, then, to expect the people around us to act with a little urgency, to behave as if time matters to them?
And at what point would one become a total jerkstore for demanding that they do so?