On Time

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There are those of us who are rarely late and those who have reputations for being late. We know who they are and adjust our own schedules to accommodate them. One of the funniest examples of this happened when a former student invited me and another teacher to her college graduation. Knowing that such events are sometimes very crowded I arrived about twenty minutes early hoping to nab a good seat. I walked in to find an empty auditorium save for the other teacher who sighed with relief when he saw me. We began to wonder if somehow we had come on the wrong date but a quick look at the invitation assured us that we were in the right place at the right time. We were befuddled but decided to wait to see if anyone else came.

Indeed people slowly trickled inside and at exactly an hour after the time noted on our invitations the graduation began. When we met with our former student after the event we mentioned our confusion and she laughed, explaining that people in her family were always late. Her mother had listed the time on the invitation an hour early so that they would be present when the ceremony began. This revelation provided us all with a good laugh.

My father-in-law is a stickler for being on time. We often joke that we might set our watches and clocks by his arrival to any planned event. He not only comes at the assigned time, but within seconds of indicated moment. We sometimes wonder if he is waiting around the corner watching the the hands of his watch tell him when to make his appearance. His punctuality is so assured that we begin discussions of sending out the troops to search for him if he is even a minute late.  

One of my dearest friends was always so late that I knew that I need not rush to prepare for her appearance. When she gave me a time to expect her I instead understood that it would be more like “something thirty’ than an exact moment. Very little in her life was ruled by a clock and in some ways I actually enjoyed the serendipity of her personality. Like my father-in-law I have tended to be a slave to the clock. Sometimes it was nice to simply linger a bit longer with her rather than rushing to the next event.

People use all kinds of excuses for being late, but where I live in Houston, Texas there is only one that is universally believed. The traffic here is so bad and so fickle that even with the best laid plans it is probable that something will cause the cars to stack up at a standstill. It may be someone with a flat tire or a stalled engine that wreaks havoc. A wreck or a lost load from an eighteen wheeler can bring movement to a standstill. Dealing with gridlock is a way of life that everyone here understands. Nobody doubts that traffic is a valid excuse for tardiness whether it is day or night. It is the one assertion that is never questioned. 

I am not a morning person by nature. I don’t mind rising from my slumber even before the sun has appeared on the horizon but I disdain having to rush around to leave my home. During my working years I hated the long drives in the dark when my brain was still foggy. Most of the time when I was late I could honestly blame it on the traffic but now and again it was because I had pushed the snooze button on my alarm a few too many times. I always dreamed of creating a society in which it would be acceptable for some people to arrive later in the morning than the seven o’clock that most schools and businesses favor. I envied an aunt who did shift work from noon to eight in the evening. It seemed like a very happy way of living. 

Covid-19 has slowed things down. So many people are still working from home. Children continue to learn remotely in many cases. I begin my own lessons at nine in the morning and it’s nice to have time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast before I begin. By the time I walk up the stairs to my make-shift classroom I am wide awake and filled with energy. It feels so much better than those years when I inched my way to work in an hour of traffic. I can be on time without the stress.

My friend who was always late died a few years back. I was bereft as I sat waiting for her funeral to begin. As the clock ticked past the designated time we learned that there had been a delay in getting her casket to the church. I felt a smile overcoming the hurt in my heart. Somehow it was like a wink from her telling us all that everything was going to be alright. Maybe we all need to enjoy life a bit more like she did and not worry so much about always being on time.


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