I did not take my watch to the beach house this winter break. Indeed, I have stopped wearing watches altogether - not because I ignore or disdain or otherwise seek to surmount time. Not at all. But because I could spend my entire discretionary budget on watches - finding them fascinating as I do. I could build an entire wardrobe of watches - with small faces and large faces; simple faces and intricate faces; leather bands, artsy bands, beaded bands. Black bands, red bands, silver bands. I would never know which one to wear when. And then, of course, is the maintenance. They break and cost as much to fix as to purchase. So I leave them, lying there. They stare at me blankly, looking up from my jewelry drawer. Carcasses, bored and stuck. Instruments of movement and eternity frozen in time. How can I not feel slightly guilty?
Anyway, I don't need watches because everywhere I go tells me the time. Everything in the house has a built in LED digital clock display. The cordless phones, the computer I am working on, my cell phone; never mind the decorative clock on my desk. And when I am out of the house, I can read the time on my car radio; my cell phone; office clocks; desk clocks and other people's watches. Truth be told, it is hard not to be aware of the time in most of the places I live my life.
So I did not take a watch to the beach. There used to be two wall clocks at this house, one in the dining room and one in the living room. There was an LED display on the microwave, and several radio clocks in the various bedrooms. As far as moden houses go, this house was clock-poor. Yet, it was sufficient for casual purposes.
But the clock in the dining room stopped working years ago. The Orioles clock in the living room had disappeared. And the LED display on the microwave was broken. I did not have access to the bedrooms that may have had radio clocks; and the one I slept in had none.
I did not have access to my computer. The phones in this house were too old to have time displays (or any displays for that matter). And besides, it was shabbes so I was not going to use the phone.
Bottom line: I had no way to tell time.
Okay, I knew when the sun set, and when it got dark. But after that, all bets were off. Nighttime, especially after sleeping for a while, becomes a jungle of time. How far have I traveled; how far yet to go? Am I rested or still tired? Did I sleep enough or just a little? Is it six hours to sunrise, or one? Am I hungry or do I just want to eat?
We like maps for the same reason we like knowing the time: knowing one's place in the universe is soothing, orienting, offering a semblance of control and knowledge. I was surprised, even so, at how unsettling it was not to know what time it was.
Daybreak offered little respite. It was already light when I woke up in the morning. Was it an hour after sunrise? two? three? It was overcast and raining. I have been coming to this house for over 20 years and I have a good sense of direction - so if I could see the sun, even in the winter months, I could roughly gauge the time of day. No luck here.
At this point, I was getting desperate, a mild case of an addict seeking a fix. Need to know the time. Need to know the time. I felt like tearing apart the house looking for a clock. True, my husband had his watch, but I think he was wearing it. And the room was dark.
And as the anxiety rose, it occurred to me that maybe I should just sit down and take a moment (without knowing which one it was!) and savor this. Perhaps I should sit down, and figure out what this desperation means, and what I can learn from it.
Here I was, on Shabbat, on vacation, in a beach community that was almost deserted. With nothing to do, no obligations, no demands, no work, no nothing. Why couldn't I just sit, or walk, or read or enjoy without knowing what time it was?
Clearly, for better or worse, deliberately and consciously or not, I plan my days according to the time it is now and the time I have left. I measure and weigh: do I do this or that? do I need to rush or take my time? can I allow myself to be distracted or not? Time is less to be experienced than to be filled. Until it runs out.
I cannot say if this is good or bad. I simply offer it as the way it is for me. And either way, it is enlightening for me to know. I think it is instructive for each of us to know how we respond to a timeless day. See if you can set aside a day beginning at evening, not just because that is the way that Jews count time, but because it gives you a whole nighttime to be without clocks (save the passage of the moon, on a clear night).
I plan to try again sometime to go a day without knowing the time. Even if it is in the middle of the night and I don't know if i get up to read whether I will have enough time to go back to sleep or not.
But I am not so certain when that day will be.
Labels: Morals, Philosophy