Like my father jingling the change in his pocket, I used to always be ahead of time, pushing the timing so that I could avert bad timing and arrive with time to spare. Time was pressure, cause for anxiety. To be late was to break your word. But for my mother, time was more fluid, more relaxed, European. She never considered herself late even when she was. She was always right on time.
Now in our sped up, pressure cooker Western world, we bide our time in some kind of numbed-out, mindless, senseless hamster cage as if the world with its multiple cascading catastrophes — climate change, crop failure, extreme heat, melting ice, wars over diminishing resources including water, the lethal mix of mental illness plus guns, you name it — were not running out of time, as if we had all the time in the world. And we DO have all the time in the world, only there may not be as much time as we like to think. We forget that industrial age time is an artificial construct we have allowed to ensnare our lives. We continue to blithely waste time, assuming time is on our side and that some miraculous technological/political/religious fix will save us in the nick of time.
Many still doggedly put in their time, delaying their dreams for a future time, believing their time will come, only to realize the dreams they have deferred have long been shattered, scattered, and cannibalized. Besides there is no time left to live them. As my father learned, there is no time off for good behavior or for playing by the rules.
Some arrogantly flaunt the space-time continuum to save their own skins for a future time when the Mobius strip of time is ironed smooth again while the rest of us squirm and struggle in the snare. In their frenzy to make the best of whatever time is left, they justify stealing time from their descendants and from the children of the world, and from the world itself, as they make sure they get the time they consider their due.
Some do their time, haunted by the past, futureless in a featureless cell. They doggedly do their time because as prison slang has it, if you don’t do your time, your time will do you. For most, time is not some great opportunity to practice living in a Buddhist bubble of contentment and presence — now, now, now — but a torture of acid eternally dripping on the same spot until the skin is ravaged, cratered, eroded.
Cancer and the loss of dear ones who have passed into timelessness help me understand the fluid, precious, uncapturable, untamable nature of time. It does no good to watch the clock. I can no longer sustain the goal of being ahead of time; instead I’m doing good to drag my feet as I move from now to now to now. I understand that I am living on borrowed time and that we are running out of time and I am trying my damnedest to make the best of the time that’s left.
There are many beings who naturally see time this way without a personal catastrophe to catalyze it. I think of the horses in the field and the birds in the trees. Esperanza and Stormy chew, swallow, move, drink, chew, nap, stare into the sky, and do it all over again in sync with the diurnal rhythm in their Buddhist practice of now, now, now. The tiny feathered dinosaurs rear their eager young, dip down into the birdbath, scoop up seeds and insects and return to their nests in a timeless circle of seasons until they die. The trees bend or break according to the wind, and shed or grow according to the season. Like my mother, they are always right on time.