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Morning Sun
  • TRUE STORIES: Slow down old world

  • Slow down, slow down old world.  What’s your hurry? My life just ain’t mine anymore. — Willie Nelson

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  • Slow down, slow down old world.  What’s your hurry? My life just ain’t mine anymore. — Willie Nelson
                           
    Today, I sit in my south room contemplating “time” as a neighbor boy bounces and shoots the basketball in his backyard — the distant, rhythmic thunk, thunk, thunk of the ball carrying me back to my backyard boyhood, bouncing and shooting ... away from the rest.
     
    I have long been fascinated by the concept of time. Even as a boy I wondered about the sequence of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years that wrapped my experiences in a seemingly unalterable grid.  I wondered  — on my solitary fishing trips to the strip pits or as I gazed at the sky from my tree house in an through catalpa leaves — about how it all jibed with eternity and God and how the faint silhouette of my existence could somehow be interwoven with it.
     
    There was a time, not so long ago really, when time was not experienced as an endless schedule of activities — or a commodity to be bought and sold, packaged and rationed as if it were a product being manufactured somewhere and shipped out to the five billion or so human beings inhabiting the earth.
     
    It was just a little over a hundred years ago, in fact, that the railroads, needing precise schedules by which to run their trains, pressured the federal government to divide the country into time zones. Before that, 8 a.m. here  in Pittsburg did not have to precisely correspond to 8 a.m. in any other place, whether it be Kansas City or Katmandu.
     
    Each community had its town hall clock or some other time coordinating system.  In these parts, it was most likely the mine whistle or the church bell, which regularly signaled the time so a person could walk to their mantle clock or pull out their pocket watch and set them.
     
    Nobody much cared if meetings or appointments started at exact times and consequently being “late” wasn’t taken as a sign of moral ineptitude.
     
    Well the railroads and the telegraph changed all that. And after them came the radio, telephone, television, computer and fax machine.  So now we live in an age of time anxiety fed by speed and immediate accessibility where many people don’t even question their attachment to the technology ... and most likely feel like slaves to it.
     
    This whole dilemma brings to mind a story of an Army orderly who, in time of war, called from the waiting room to the psychiatrist in his office, “Sir I have a man here who thinks he’s been captured by the enemy.”
     
    Page 2 of 2 - “Well, send him in,” the psychiatrist responded.
     
    “I can’t, sir.  He won’t let go of me!”
     
    Truth is, like the soldier whose delusion had captured him, many of us have also been captured by the delusion that there’s not enough “time.”  Stepping out of the delusion, though, means stepping out of our mindless rush ... to see time from different perspectives.
     
    You’ve probably noticed how you can experience the passage of time far differently depending on the situationn you’re in (think of waiting in the Dentist’s chair versus being engrossed in a movie!).
     
    Or how about the dread with which we can approach some future appointed time (income taxes due April 15) contrasted with the joyful anticipation with which we can approach the same time (return of a loved one from a long absence on April 15).
     
    The difference is, of course, all in how we perceive it. And our perceptions of time can be changed (especially so if we ponder the concept of eternity!).
     
    Then there’s “internal” time as opposed to “external” time. Before time became commercialized, and therefore externally constricting, people would arise when rested, eat when hungry, work when motivated, talk when talkative, take solitude when needing silence, and sleep when tired.
     
    People followed their internal time in combination with the natural flow of nature and the seasons.  Their individual, internal time experiences would then mix to create the rhythm of a family, a town, a nation.
     
    Rhythm is, I have found, my key to developing a new awareness of time.  I try to remember to maintain my own internal rhythm, my own tempo, my own pace ... in spite of the reeling around me.  And to do that, I have to stop — or, at the very least, pause, long enough to be aware of it.
     
    It can be something as simple as taking a deep breath, reading a poem, hugging a child, turning off the television or letting the phone ring once more before answering.
     
    Or, in the slanted light of a March afternoon, listening to the rhythmic thunk, thunk, thunk of a basketball bouncing in the backyard.
     
    This column originally appeared February 13, 1995. If you’d like to read more like it, you can find them in my book “Where The Pavement Ends,” available at Paradise Mall, the Pitt State bookstore or Amazon.com. I can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net
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