Earlier this week I was given a gift of time. I was supposed to participate in a meeting from 10 a.m. until noon, but when I got up there, the room was dark and no one was there. I had arrived a few minutes late, but thought I’d find at least one or two of my colleagues there. I had prepared a number of documents and outlines for the meeting, the purpose of which was to plan a training program. Even though I wasn’t slated to lead the meeting, I had pulled together several ideas and suggestions I’d had and had intended to offer the to the group as a means of starting and focusing the conversation. When I went down to find one of my other colleagues who was supposed to be at the meeting, I discovered that she was sick, and yet another had come to the room on time, and finding no one there, gone back to her office. I still don’t know why another didn’t show up. Suddenly I realized that I now had a two-hour time block unexpectedly freed. Rather than lament the fact that I’d spent hours preparing for a meeting that didn’t happen, I celebrated and welcomed the gift of time.
I was talking on the phone with a friend this morning. He had been traveling from the East Coast back to his home in St. Louis. He’d made it as far as Chicago, but his flight from Chicago home had been cancelled the night before and he, having been separated from his luggage, spent the night at the airport hotel with very few possessions. He’d sent me a disgruntled text after his flight had been cancelled, but by the time I’d spoken to him this morning, he’d relaxed and shrugged at the inconvenience. We chatted as he waited to board his flight and I had the opportunity to catch up with him on a long list of things he’d been up to since we’d last spoken. I wonder if he realized that he’d been given the gift of time. Being delayed is rarely fun and unexpectedly spending the night in a hotel with no jammies or fresh clothes would most definitely be inconvenient (at least he was fortunate enough to be able to get a hotel room; it has to beat sleeping at the airport.) Still, he suddenly found himself with several extra hours on is hands. What did he do with them, I wonder. What would I do?
Today I spent several hours with one of my sisters. We were working on a display she’s putting together for African American heritage month. She’s pictorially tracing a portion of our family tree from our earliest known kin on my father’s side–our great, great grandmother who was sold as a slave at nine years old and transported from South Carolina to Georgia, where my great grandfather, grandfather, and father were all born. We looked through old photographs and constructed a timeline of their history from 1845 through to the present, tracing their migration route from South Carolina through six states. My sister and I have had a number of conversations about our family heritage, which has literally been a lifelong passion of mine. As we talked, I rattled off dates and tidbits of information I’d gathered over the years.“You’d better take the time to write all this stuff down,” she admonished me. “If something were to happen to you all this information would be lost.” “I want to,” I replied, “but I’d have to quit my job. Otherwise I’d never find the time to really devote to the research and actually get it written.”
After she left I thought about the notion of time as my limiting factor. Every once in a while I find myself thinking about what I would do if I won the lottery (if I every played the lottery), and I realize what I’d be winning was time. I think I’d be less focused on the acquisition of things–houses, cars, all the things that a lot of money could purchase–and more zeroed in on what I’d actually gain. What it would give me is the gift of time to do things like write the family history I’ve been writing in my head and heart for the last 35 years or so. So much to do, so little time.
Time really is a gift, as I think about it. Whether it is the unexpected two hours I “gained” when my meeting was postponed the other day or the extra day my friend had when his flight was cancelled, that is time we spent differently than we’d at first anticipated. There have been moments in my life when I wished time would stop, just for that moment, to extend something special that I was experiencing. There have been times when time has seemed to drag along and move interminably slow and all I wanted to do was to hurry it along. The truth is that all I really have is this moment that I’m in, and in this moment I am grateful for the time that I do have. May I spend it well as best I can.
“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” Henry Van Dyke