Erin J. Bernard, erinjbernard.net, analog clock, time, broken clock, black and white clock

Bitter Gifts: Meditations on Using Your Time

There’s something bracing and just a little bit wistful about the sticky thick of summer.

It makes me think, inevitably, about time, and how fast it passes.

When I was a kid, man, summers lasted forever and ever. They were endless! Day after perfect day, stacked high up to sweaty infinity.

And when you hate school as much as I did, you live for those months of calm and ease. You rely on them and their plodding slowness to sooth and embolden you, to sand down the edges of memory enough that you might greet the crisp hustle of September with a bit of optimism and cheer.

 

Erin J. Bernard, erinjbernard.net, clock, time, black and white clock, clock face, old clock

Clock – Erin J. Bernard

There’s something bracing and just a little bit wistful about the sticky thick of summer.

It makes me think, inevitably, about time, and how fast it passes.

When I was a kid, man, summers lasted forever and ever. They were endless! Day after perfect day, stacked high up to sweaty infinity.

And when you hate school as much as I did, you live for those months of calm and ease. You rely on them and their plodding slowness to sooth and embolden you, to sand down the edges of memory enough that you might greet the crisp hustle of September with a bit of optimism and cheer.

 

In childhood, the years were counted from June to June. Falls, winters and springs were busy and breezy and unceasing. Summers helped you forget.

My family had a tradition for celebrating the arrival of each new warm season: on the last day of the school year, my mom would come to fetch us in our maroon-and-gold Astro van, its innards already packed to the gills with suitcases and pillows and sand buckets, and we’d drive straight on into the western horizon to kick off endless summer with a sojourn by the sea.

By the time we headed home a week or so later, we were decompressed, put to rights, and ready to settle into an easy routine. And the possibilities felt limitless. The world was my endless scratchy patch of cracklin’ beach grass. I was immortal, all-powerful, and baffled by the compulsion that every adult around me had to comment constantly on passing time, on changing people.

Big people took every opportunity to marvel at the enormous and ever-aging world. We little ones were doing our best to stay young forever, but of course, their observations crept into the frame.

We’d run into an old friend of my mother’s in a video or grocery store, and after everyone had exchanged pleasantries and the requisite “My have you growns” and parted ways, my mom would remark beneath her breath with some wonderment, “God, she’s gotten old!”

My father would wax nostalgic about his own boyhood, of wilderness scouting expeditions with a gruff-but-devoted father, of cranberry bogs and long-dead dogs and the fateful day when he’d finally grown big enough to pummel his older brother. And he always did it with some look in his eyes that suggested to me that none of it had been so very long ago.

But how could that possibly be, when a mere three months lasted such a fantastical eternity? How big was time, really, then?

Now that I’m grown, of course, despite myself, I understand. I’m the one with graying, pleasingly plump friends. I’m the one prone to fits of nostalgia.

Erin J. Bernard, erinjbernard.net, digital clock, time, alarm clock, black and white clock

Digital – Erin J. Bernard

I wrote this essay over the course of a very busy (and very hot) morning and afternoon.

I wrote this while a new set of tires was being put on my car, while I was waiting to get my hair cut, while I was waiting for a casserole to cook. I even dictated a few snippets of it as I sat in a traffic snarl.

Still earlier this morning, as I stood in my kitchen and wolfed down a plate of eggs, eyeballing the clock, I talked for a moment with my husband and a houseguest of ours about the paradoxical fact that the more you learn about how life works, the more you are forced to concede that you actually have very little figured out, which seems a sorta backwards way to order a universe.

“You get older, and you learn that you’ve got to let life give you its lessons,” our guest observed.

And those secret lessons, we all agreed, will not be rushed. They are the bitter, essential gifts of passing time, and they’re doled out slowly, jealously.

Childhood is endless. But grow we must, and as we do, we come to see time as a master of sorts. It’s the quandary of self-awareness, of mortality: the recognition of oneself as tethered to a clock that can be wound just once, and then winds only ever down.

Erin J. Bernard, erinjbernard.net, analog clock, time, broken clock, black and white clock

Whatever – Erin J. Bernard

I wrote this in between a flurry of tasks, scribbling and mumbling the lines out in salvaged, idle moments. Because my time, which once seemed so limitless, must now be negotiated from the universe in snippets. Snatched from the jaws of oblivion in five-minute increments as my clock ticks backward in the Les Schwab Tire Center, in Bishop’s Barber Shop, in the driver’s seat of my old, rattling Buick.

Lately, I’ve entertained myself with the thought that perhaps I’m no more than a conduit through which the universe seeks to know itself. When I write, when I meditate, when I travel, when I share my thoughts with others, when I get very, very quiet, I am playing my infinitesimally tiny role in directing the flow of a curious universe.

If that sounds grand, I don’t mean it to; one day quite soon, my part will be played out, and I’ll disappear down the memory hole. How much difference will any of what I did or said or was actually make?

Probably rather little.

But, oh, I do get scared of wasting time. She’s an indifferent and exacting kind of mistress, and forget what Einstein had to say about any of it: she doesn’t stop, she won’t wait, and she absolutely cannot bend.

I wrote this in a hurry, knowing full well that one day quite soon, the gig’ll be up and I’ll be snuffed unceremoniously back into infinity.

The eye-blink span of seconds and hours between that moment and here, however, is mine to use as I see fitting and deem worthwhile.

It’s all I’ll ever be given. I will use it.

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3 thoughts on “Bitter Gifts: Meditations on Using Your Time

  1. Viren Parekh says:

    You are most welcome!
    Yes, I agree with you on that one! I have decided to consciously take the time to stand and stare 🙂

    Happy blogging! Looking forward to more awesomeness from you!

  2. erinjbernard says:

    From stargazing to screengazing … Such an apt metaphor! We do and must and should grow up, but I think as an adult, it takes conscious effort to stay tuned in to wonder. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Viren Parekh says:

    Thank you for writing this. Explains the funny feeling I have too at times… Still remember the nights of my childhood.. Sitting atop the roof of my house, watching the stars, trying to think how they got there and how I got to where I am! 🙂

    Now its just looking at numbers on the laptop (which don’t make any more sense than the stars mind you) which are lot less fun to look at!

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