In the course of attending the recent Michigan Spring Game, my sons and I had the good fortune of seeing former head coach Lloyd Carr outside the stadium.
A more gracious man there never has been, and he immediately inquired about my sons’ names and ages. The poor little dudes (ages 8 and 9) don’t even remember Carr strolling the sidelines, so the moment meant much more to me than them. I asked the retired coach and associate athletic director whether or not he was doing any traveling and what he was doing with his time.
“I’m not doing much, but I’m very busy,” Carr said in his familiar raspy tone.
The statement instantly struck me. I could relate all too well. I approached my time in between positions as an opportunity on many fronts: get in better touch with my spouse and children, find a job that I truly desired, and get a lot of things done around the house that I have wanted to do for so long but — recite the refrain with me — “never had the time.”
How often have we said that about a given idea? “If only I had the time.” This is, of course, a bogus excuse. We all have the same amount of time. Twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, “five hundred twenty-five thousand, 600 minutes” in a year, as the cast of “Rent” famously sings. But how we spend that time and why we spend it as we do are questions that deserve some inspection.
Work is the primary time-eater for most of us. Two thousand hours a year if you work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. Although the time away from it might be somewhat negotiable, its necessity generally is not. Money must be earned so mortgages, car payments, utility bills, credit cards, tuition and other loans can be paid.
But I have been amazed, impressed and sometimes depressed in my time without employment just how fast hours and days just evaporate. Some folks feel that staying busy makes the days go faster, and I certainly felt that at my previous job. But the longest and best days now are those in which a tangible accomplishment can be seen — like last Saturday when my family and sister spent an afternoon weeding and planting at my mother’s house.
Yesterday, the need to move a couch motivated my wife and me to re-configure the family-room layout and do that joyful this-couch-hasn’t-moved-in-three-years-just-look-at-what’s-under-it cleaning. Those days felt long not because they dragged on with 5 p.m. seemingly a pipe dream on the horizon, but the impressiveness of the task at hand and the want to have it finished.
This topic makes me wonder about my mom, almost 80 years old, living with Parkinson’s for more than 25 years but, for the last three-and-a-half months, widowed from the man with whom she shared more than 60 years. She has nowhere to go and no partner to go with, so much of her time is spent rooting through piles of papers and pictures, organizing and moving them to one shelf or another, only to return to the same pile a day or a week later to re-organize and move again.
It’s a routine than can be maddening for caregivers and family to observe. But that’s what she does to get through her hours, her days. I have a feeling she does not see time as flying by any more. But those 60 years probably went pretty fast.