By Tom Poland
Growing up I could hear the tick of my church’s old Regulator wall clock. I can’t hear it today, but my hearing’s good. All that keeping of time must have silenced the Regulator’s tick and that’s appropriate. Time is fleeting in a silent unnoticed way.
I got caught up in the race and somewhere between 1996 and 2015 time stole not nineteen years but my life. One day it struck me that my daughters were grown. One day it hit me how many people I knew were dead. One day I realized others had gone into shells that swallowed their lives entire. I looked back on the jobs I’d held and how important they were but in the end they amounted to nothing. We waste a lot of time worrying when we should be remembering.
I look a lot now at what was and I do what many will think is a strange thing. On a regular basis I drive up Georgia Highway 79 and park and lean on a steel gate and stare at mom’s old homeplace. All a stranger will see is grass, trees, and an old store converted to a hunting camp. Not me. I see family. Meals. Games with cousins. Cold winter nights around a wood stove. Sinking deep into a cold feather bed. Drawing a bucket of water up from a well. A smokehouse. Penny candy. Outhouse. Crab apples. Bamboo peashooters. Arrowheads, Indian pennies, and more. Come with me one day and I’ll tell you a whole lot more about all I see in that patch of grass and weeds.
Oh. Well, that’s okay. I knew you wouldn’t have the time to join me.
Time. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines time as the “indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.” I define it as the stuff memories are made from. However you define it, time always seems to be in short supply but that doesn’t stop people from spending a lot of time writing about time.
In his epic poem, “Looking For The Buckhead Boys,” James Dickey gives us these lines after learning that many years later that his old high school teammates are dead from heart attacks, war, and one’s paralyzed, one’s in jail, and others maligned in other ways by the clock. He remembers they lived and writes there are “sunlit pictures in the Book of the Dead to prove it: the 1939 North Fulton High School Annual. O the Book/Of the Dead, and the dead, bright sun on the page/Where the team stands ready to explode/In all directions with Time.”
Explode in all directions is right. People move never to be heard from again. Where, I wonder, is Benjamin Bradford? Where is Jean Gassaway? Where did Tommy Kennedy go? I know where Eddie, Mike, Dawkins, Janis, Sammy, and Peggy are. Gone. Gone forever. Time is fleeting and ruthless.
In “Time,” Pink Floyd gives us this line: “Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day” and this one, “Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time.” It’s true. A dull day seems far longer than a day spent adventuring. And it’s true that each year burns up faster than the one before.
Can you hear time if you pay attention? Yes, a newborn baby cries. A young boy’s voice begins to change. Brakes lock and tires squeal just before that awful sound. A siren screams down a highway. A bell tolls in the distance.
Can you see time? Sure. You see it as a tombstone. An abandoned home. A wooden cross in a highway curve. A clear-cut forest. A hearse. A wheelchair ramp.
I see it as an old chair no one sits in anymore. Covered in rust with a bent leg it nonetheless possesses beauty and it’s a fine place to set a favorite book, dried flowers, and hourglass to signify the passing of time. Seems an old soap opera used to open with the saying, “Like sands through an hourglass, these are the days of our lives.” How true.
Time. It’s the most important thing we spend. How do you spend it?
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