For the Week of December 4, 2016: Where Has the Time Gone?

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

Tomorrow will be dying…

(From: “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time, by Robert Herrick,  1591 – 1674)

“Gosh, it’s December already!  Where has the time gone?”  So began a conversation with one of my friends as we realized how much time had passed since we’d met one another for lunch.  I could account for the past two months—a trip to Florida to care for two of my grandchildren in their parents’ absence, and afterward, immediately traveling to Toronto for my daughter’s doctoral convocation.  November was a blur in the aftermath of the election and a much-needed rest from travel, but how did it suddenly become December?  It feels almost as if this last month of the year is poised at the starting line of a racetrack, eager to make it to the finish line, crowded with the demands of the holiday season, and ready to turn over the calendar to 2017 as quickly as possible.

“But I need more time!” I protest.  My “to-do” lists keep multiplying, and I seem to be  racing against clock and calendar from dawn to dusk, mailing packages, writing out holiday cards to friends far away, keeping various appointments, venturing into the crowded shops, and tending to household duties, only to wonder why it suddenly is well past my bedtime.   I have a sense of time racing by, made all the more fleeting by the rush of holiday activities.  Invitations have begun to multiply, and as they do, I quietly balk, wishing I had more time awaken to a quiet day without any appointments, deadlines, invitations or that never-ending list of “to-dos.”  I’m running as fast as I can, but as Barbara Crooker describes in her poem,  “In the Middle,”

One day you look out the window,
green summer, the next, and the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon…

…Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster…

(In:  Word Press, 1998.)

Where has the time gone?”  How many times have I heard someone ask that question this past week?  Too often to count.  I suspect you have also asked it more than once.  But put it another way, and the question becomes more specific:   “What have I done with my time?

In the 1989 Film, Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams played an unorthodox English teacher who challenged the traditions of an elite private school and his students with his unorthodox h teaching approaches.   “Believe it or not,” he tells his students, “each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die.”  Williams’ character’s students rallying cry becomes “carpe diem,” or “seize the day,”  a call to live life to its full potential.  I wonder, does living our lives fully make us more attentive to how we spend our time?

The phrase “carpe diem,”according to, originated in a long series of poems called “Odes,” composed by the Roman poet Horace in 65 B.C.E..

Scale back your long hopes

to a short period. While we
speak, time is envious and

is running away from us.
Seize the day, trusting
little in the future.

Time…is running away from ustrusting little in the future…  I wonder.  Are we paying attention to what time offers to us?  Or are we letting it get away from us?  Are there other ways to think about the role of time in our lives?  William Stafford invites the reader to rethink time in the poem, “The Gift.”

Time wants to show you a different country.  It’s the one
that your life conceals, the one waiting outside
when curtains are drawn, the one Grandmother hinted at
in her crochet design, the one almost found
over at the edge of the music, after the sermon.

It’s the way life is, and you have it, a few years given.
You get killed now and then, violated
in various ways.  (And sometimes it’s turn about.)
You get tired of that.  Long-suffering, you wait
and pray, and maybe good things come – maybe
the hurt slackens and you hardly feel it any more.
You have a breath without pain.  It is called happiness.

It’s a balance, the taking and passing along,
the composting of where you’ve been and how people
and weather treated you.  It’s a country where
you already are, bringing where you have been.
Time offers this gift in its millions of ways,
turning the world, moving the air, calling,
every morning, “Here, take it, it’s yours.”

(From:  The Way It Is, Graywolf Press, 1999)

“Here, take it, it’s yours.”  As your list of things to do intensifies in the crush of holiday shopping, socializing and gift giving, time may feel like it’s racing by, or, it might, if you’re waiting for something to happen, like the interminable wait  for Santa Claus you knew as children, when time seems to drag and stretch into forever.  Either way, we forget to “seize the day” or pay attention to time and life.

Suppose your life a folded telescope
Durationless, collapsed in just a flash
As from your mother’s womb you, bawling, drop
Into a nursing home…

Einstein was right. That would be too intense.
You need a chance to preen, to give a dull
Recital before an indifferent audience
Equally slow in jeering you and clapping…

Time takes its time unraveling. But, still, 

You’ll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What happened?

(From:  “The Purpose of Time is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once,” by X.J. Kennedy, In: The Lords of Misrule:  Poems,  1992 -2001)

Writing Suggestion:

This week, consider time.  What is your relationship to time?  Do you feel you are running out of time or, conversely, twiddling your thumbs waiting for time to pass?  Write about your relationship to time.  What has time taught you about life?  What gifts has time offered you?

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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