The old saying is that life is short. In the grand scope of history that is certainly so. A single life can seem so brief and insignificant when lumped with he billions of souls who have spent time on this earth. On the individual level life can feel both unbelievably fast and brutally slow. The only thing that is certain is that each one is important and never to be taken for granted.
From my vantage point of seventy-two years and counting there are days when I feel as though I am still a young woman in her twenties just beginning my adult journey. I wonder where the time went, how I became so old. On other days it feels as though I have carried the weight of tragedies and sorrows and worries for a thousand years. I suppose that in reality time is relative to each situation. Those fun vacations are over in the blink of an eye. Carrying out a difficult task seems endless. Our sense of time is controlled not just by the clock or the calendar but by our emotions.
We humans are hardwired to make plans for the time that we are here. We set goals, accomplish tasks, reach milestones. It is in our natures to travel through the days looking into the future, but sometimes spending so much time on tomorrow that we forget to make the most of today. Balancing the way we use our time is a skill that we too often neglect in our attempts at being all things to all people.
Our calendars are often so full that we do not have a single moment to spare. We rise early and begin our daily race from one appointment to another. We set routines that are exhausting and travel from one day to another in a kind of blur. We must work. We must eat. We must exercise. We must care for our children. We must find a second to have fun. We must maintain and repair our homes. We must clean our clothes. We must. We must. We must.
Then a tragedy enters our life. We may have an accident or become very ill. Someone we love may die suddenly. We may lose our homes to fire or winds or floods. The whole world seems to still be moving around us while we feel as though time has stopped and we are stuck in a place of horror from which we cannot escape. We wonder how it is even possible for others to hold fast to their routines while we feel as though time itself is standing still. We are filled with pain that stalks us hour after slow moving hour.
The bad times remind us to value the good times. They prompt us to adjust our daily routines, to slow down just enough to focus on our relationships with others, to use our time more wisely. We sincerely attempt to be more mindful of the people around us, to give that extra couple of seconds to be kind or to give encouragement or praise. We learn that a phone call need not take away from our duties but it can be a lifeline to someone who is feeling lonely or anxious or sad. It’s an easy change to adjust our routines to include love and hugs and understanding along with all of our other tasks. Time feels just right when we use some of it to do such things.
There are those among us who have to use every bit of time just to survive. They do not have regular salaries or sick leave. They work by the hour, often at minimum wage or even below. Every hour missed is income lost and they have very little wriggle room that allows them to enjoy the security of being an employee with a guaranteed wage and perks like insurance, vacations, holidays, and time off for sickness. Often they work two and three different jobs. They toil all day and then travel to second jobs at night. They find supplemental opportunities on weekends. They may even move from place to place in season after season in search of jobs.
As an educator I have seen the realities of this kind of survival. Parents tied to such lifestyles were unable to attend conferences because doing so might jeopardize their jobs. Students often played the roles of surrogate parents to siblings while their moms and dads worked at night. I heard stories of students themselves who headed to jobs immediately after school, working long into the late hours and neglecting homework because they had to do so. In spite of knowing that this kind of thing is happening the rest of us are all too often reluctant to ensure that every working person has a decent wage, a source of medical insurance, time off for illnesses or going to vote. Instead we quibble over raising the minimum wage. We shorten the hours and number of days on which citizens may vote. We rant about a national medical insurance program. We push many among us to use all of their time just attempting to survive while insinuating that if they were not so lazy they would not be caught in such time stealing traps.
We are born, we live and then we die. A few generations after we are gone we are little more than a name on a tombstone, an urn or a family tree. The world soon forgets what we accomplished who we were and it may be only one curious descendant who wants to understand what our purpose was on this earth. Our time is short, but it should also be more meaningful than just fighting to survive. It’s up to every one of us to help our fellow humans to have enough time to make life more than toil and worry. We have the means and the power to make this happen. It’s time we also have the will. Each of us has only a short lifetime to make a difference.