Taking Apart the Ticking of Time
I WAS proud of my first watch. It was given to me in recognition for mastering the ability to tell time. And it was a status symbol among my peers to own a Mickey Mouse wristwatch. But, in retrospect, I can see it infringed a bit on my freedom. I was cautioned to fit my play into the frame of time dictated by my watch.When "Mickey" refused to tell time for me, I was given a streamlined silver job, a watch with a slim rectangular-shaped face with roman numerals and a shiny, silver, expansion band. With my new watch, however, came the added responsibility to put the potatoes on at 5:15 every evening. Don't get me wrong. It's important to teach young people the value of managing their time and give them opportunities to share responsibilities in family living. But, while it's great to sport a fancy watch, the lamentable cost, it seems to me, is a loss of that wild freedom of roaming through timeless days with endless adventures. This early experience with timepieces may help to explain one of my grown-up idiosyncrasies. For years, the gold watch I inherited from my grandmother never recorded the correct time for the simple reason that I didn't wind it. I don't remember consciously thinking, "Now I'll wear this watch, but I'll never wind it." It just happened. And when my family brought it to my attention, I'll admit it seemed a little unorthodox, but I finally figured out it must be my way of telling time - telling that tyrant c alled time - to get lost! Yes, a timepiece can remind me of significant things - getting me to the theater before the doors close and I have to watch the first act on closed-circuit TV, baking cookies to that chewy consistency we all like, making sure I don't water the garden too long in this drought-ridden state where I live. But, does this man-made concept of keeping track of time interfere with the development of my inner clock, which knows intuitively the approximate time of day? I sometimes play games. Can I get through the day without consulting a timepiece? I can rise on time, and I have a sense of rhythmic timing as I proceed through the morning rituals of my wake-up shower, my good-morning chat with the cat, and my consumption of tea, toast, and marmalade while listening to the weather report, which determines my selection of dress for the day. Am I cheating if I look out of the window to see when my across-the-street neighbor backs her car out of the driveway? It's time to shoulder my day pack and head for work. The rest of the day is easy for me. If I have a report with a deadline, I do my best. Watching the clock, in most cases, would only slow me down. I either finish it on time, or I ask for a needed extension. And lunch is no problem. I eat when I'm hungry or when a co-worker suggests it's time. In most cases, it's perfectly clear when it's time to quit work. There are vibrations around me - a general sense of wrapping it up for the day. Of course, time does not really exist in any primordial sense, for it is wholly man-made. The Greeks in their usual preciseness had two main words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos - chronology - is the word for the measurable passage of time, while kairos is not measurable but a timeless event like wave upon wave breaking on a sandy beach. In my time before watches, I was in kairos. I was simply me, who came home when called or when hungry or when dusk cast its shadow. I didn't tell time or count days. When I use a watch, I'm in chronos, subject to the passage of time. When vacationing alone, my husband and I hide our watches to recapture kairos and measure our days not by time but by good conversation, long walks, reading, and sunsets. When I return to the world of work and meetings and social engagements, I look for balance. The ticking of the clock is a comforting sound. But is the steady ticking of the clock (chronos) trying to dictate my life pattern, or can I be like the child at play, outside of self and time (kairos)? I seem to drift in and out of these two concepts. I have a new watch now. My husband, tiring of a wife who never wound her watch, bought me a battery-powered one that always tells the right time, with no winding. I don't spend a lot of time examining its face; instead I like to reflect on Thoreau's lyrical, insightful observation: "Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains."