Is time a demon or a gift? Few amongst us hasn’t lamented the passage of time, and it’s something which weighs increasingly heavy as we age.
It was the summer of 1984 and I was working for the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) out of Cochrane, Ontario, as a Fish & Wildlife Technologist. My contract involved working in the field, in a remote location, inaccessible by road, with one co-worker whom I’d just met, collecting Lake Sturgeon population data on the Mattagami River. A pattern of Ten-On, Four-Off was repeated over a four-month period that summer, and both the experiences and natural beauty of our working environment, were priceless.
Reminds me of the old Monty Python Flying Circus routine “A Minute Passed“.
For those ten days, time stood virtually still. A simple routine that involved completing a series of tasks, and then time was our own. No pressing deadlines, no telephones, no meetings. The weather being our only external concern. I’ll grant, that those were pre-tablet and internet days, but we didn’t even have electricity in the cabin where we were staying, and the only form of communication with the outside world was a battery-powered Two-Way Radio. We would check-in at the same time every morning, to confirm with our Radio Dispatcher that we hadn’t run afoul of any large mammals, and otherwise, the only man made sound was that which we were responsible for. I read and wrote so much that summer.
Fast forward thirty years and like most of you, I’m frightened by how fast time seems to pass by. Why is that? The apparent speed with which time passes, not the fright.
Driving at 100 km / hour… ahhmmm! I often find myself coming to the realization that I’ve travelled hundreds if not thousands of kilometres in my car, and seen nothing but asphalt, concrete and flashing lights. I’ve driven back and forth to jobs, run errands and visited friend’s homes, but I haven’t gone anywhere, I haven’t done anything of worth. I believe that that sense of not having accomplished anything and time rushing by, are linked.
It’s not even a matter of doing too much, it’s more so that we keep looking for ways to do less. We rationalize that if we purchase this gizmo or streamline that process, we’ll have more free time to relax, and then time won’t feel to be in such short supply. We say we’ll read more, but we don’t. We promise to spend more time sitting in conversation with friends, but we don’t… we text! We fill that hard-earned free time with distractions that demand very little direct participation by us, and consequently we have nothing to show, only to further exacerbate the feeling that time is passing us by.
I’m not suggesting that we need to be constantly making stuff or conquering another white-water run, but there’s a difference between relaxing and lethargy. “Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.” is a phrase originally attributed to Marthe Troly-Curtin, in her novel Phrynette Married, and most recently popularized by John Lennon. It speaks to being aware of how we spend our time, and forces us to consider how we choose to while away our days.
What is so exhausting about baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch, be it by yourself or in the fellowship of… great company We can’t converse while we measure out the flour We can’t share stories while we clean up, in anticipation of tasting the fruits of our labours How did thawing the store bought cookie dough, strengthen our relationships or stash away any dearly held memories What, if anything, did we learn about each other?
As read on a Hospital Cork Board, yup this is old, “The most tiring thing to do is nothing, because you can never stop to take a rest.”
Enjoyment is in the doing. The less effort we invest in ANYTHING, the less satisfaction we derive from the consumption. The lower the sense of accomplishment, the poorer our legacy.Squandering opportunities to positively impact the lives of others, only accelerates the sensation that time is whizzing past us.
I’m fortunate to have discovered an antidote to the question of a legacy and the relentless passage of time. Like many artists, I find it relatively easy to put all the outside pressures into perspective. I spend as much time as possible with my children, I read, I write, I DO. My camera allows me to gather and share a photographic legacy now, while I’m here to enjoy the reactions, and later to provide documentary evidence of my place in time.
Back on the Mattagami River, I’ll confess that as we approached the end of our ten days in the field, I did become anxious for the variety of faces and distractions that even Cochrane would afford and considered time to be a demon. However, after a few days back in town, I craved for the rustic surroundings of our little cabin and considered time to be a gift.
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