Ready or not, it's time to step forward

As the final hours of 2005 tick off the clock and fall into the past, I feel like a party guest being ushered down a dim hallway toward the back door. There is no turning around. Ready or not, it's time to leave the building.

I've never liked the image of a new year starting out as a baby and ending up a frail old man with a long white beard. I envision each upcoming year as an event hosted by a handsome, dynamic manager who supervises a sprawling, multilevel structure with unlimited seating. We all arrive, visit for 365 days, then move on to the next venue. After we've left, I suspect the various managers from previous years talk among themselves and trade horror stories about our collective behavior.

One thing is for sure - nobody is allowed to go back and make changes. Time only runs forward. It's a dimension of our lives that will always have the upper hand. We've learned to measure it, organize it, and schedule it, but it can't be controlled. Time doesn't care about our needs, and it doesn't give anybody special treatment.

The concept of "use it or lose it" can be extremely frustrating. Who has not awakened from a sound sleep early in the morning and thought, "Wait! I'm not ready for today. Can't today go somewhere else and come back later?" I know this feeling well. It would be so wonderful to have a time bank, a depository where I could stockpile this fabulous commodity, but I'm not sure who could be trusted to guard the vault.

The only decision we have to make regarding time is how it's going to be spent, and I'm happy to be living in a society where that choice exists. Many people in the past did not have such an option. A wonderful discussion of this subject can be found in a book about clockmaking entitled "Revolution In Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World," by David S. Landes. In ancient China, for example, all chronological technology and information was controlled by the emperor because he held absolute power. As Mr. Landes explains, "His time was China's time."

For me, all the empty boxes on the 2006 calendar are like hundreds of blank checks waiting to be issued in my name. I'm anticipating that some of the time will be shared with other people, some will be solely my own, and some will be lost because of poor management. And when those losses happen, I won't brood or wring my hands because that just wastes more time.

Every year is an event that happens one day at a time. You can't skip ahead, or jam several days together, and you only get a single chance to experience each one. I try to keep that idea somewhere near the top of my mental priority list each morning when I wake up.

And now it's time to step into the fresh, clean surroundings of 2006. I'll do my best to move around the venue each day in a careful, responsible manner. I don't want the manager to remember me as one of those selfish, annoying visitors who stomp out in 12 months and leave the whole place looking trashed.

Jeffrey Shaffer writes about media, American culture, and personal history.

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