Putting time in its place


THERE is a theory, to which I do not subscribe, that time is such a precious commodity it should not be wasted. Rudyard Kipling rather unctuously suggested that if we filled every unforgiving minute with 60 seconds' worth of distance run, the earth would be ours; but it seems to me that if you believe in eternity rather than time, you can easily take a few minutes off to wonder why all the watches and clocks in horological advertisements invariably stand at 10 past 10? Is it because hands in the fifth position, so to speak, look more cheerful than if they drooped at 20 past 7? The answer to this, should it be forthcoming, will not really improve my mind, but thoughts such as these are so entertaining and nice I cannot believe they are worthless. My mind will not be improved, either, by perusing the glossy periodicals, by staring in amazement at the lunatic clothes depicted therein, the recipes for nouvelle cuisine and the endless advertisements for cosmetics, but though this does no active good to my character I cannot see that it is doing any actual harm, either.

There can, surely, be a neutral zone in which the mind floats like a lazy little boat, acquiring neither knowledge nor virtue but, as it were, savoring the moment? Trailing its fingers, so to say, in the water?

There are certain nonevents, perhaps, such as weighing the cat or counting the number of people called Jones in the telephone directory that strike even a confirmed time waster as a misuse of minutes; and of course the many hours we spend watching bad television programs are apt to nudge the conscience. Yet the idea that human beings should always be doing something constructive or intelligent if their lives are to have any meaning gives time an importance it does not deserve.

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Oddly enough, thinking, as a useful ploy, is suspect. If you are sitting with a pad in one hand and a pencil in the other you are fairly safe, as it is assumed there will eventually be what they call on quiz shows an ``end product,'' even if this is only a grocery list. You are even safer if you have some holy book lying open in your lap, or perhaps the Consolations of Boethius. But to sit empty-handed, looking into space, promotes nothing but criticism, even if you assure the relative (it is nearly always a relative) who has just said, ``Don't just sit there! DO something!'' that you are doing something. You are thinking. This carries no weight at all.

Which is strange. For even the most soporific thinkers are sometimes ``stung by the splendor of a sudden thought'' that leads to some thoroughly useful experience. There is no reason to believe that Isaac Newton was actually thinking of anything much before he was hit on the head by an apple. Nor need we automatically suppose that Archimedes was at his brightest when he stepped into his bath. In fact, I am reluctant to believe that the great and the good have not, in their time, wasted it constantly and in a variety of delightful ways: And I shall continue to copy them, occasionally making daisy chains and building sand castles and simply sitting thinking.

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