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What Didn’t You Do?

When my eyes flutter open each morning I am never aware of what the theme for the day will be. I’m not talking about one story, like the same headline posted by 20 different Facebook friends or some news item trending on Twitter. A theme is more than that. It’s a common thread that insinuates itself into the seemingly disparate moments until I sleep again. It’s the emotional subtext that tints everything I see and hear with its meaning. Some days repeatedly remind us of how alone we are. Others, just the opposite. Yesterday, for me, the theme was time.

It began with a daily quotation, the one at the bottom of my “A Word a Day” emails: “Our perception that we have ‘no time’ is one of the distinctive marks of modern Western culture — Margaret Visser.” It felt reasonable enough. Once, I’d spent a relaxing week in Italy that seemed to stretch for months. But then I realized that, at its core, the observation didn’t ring true, not really, not today. Westerners aren’t any busier than Easterners. I thought of the hustle-bustle of Tokyo — sure, the Japanese take time when pouring their tea, but they also speed-walk to bullet trains.

As I continued performing my morning ritual — email, then social media, then world news — I pondered how we experience time in a world that has become exponentially faster and more connected than even Visser could have imagined when she made that statement just a decade ago. These days, it seems no one is immune to the perception of having “no time.” This made me wonder, where did the time go?

My heart began to palpitate in a familiar rhythm, a staccato speeding and skipping that is often brought about by my trepidatious relationship with time. I became aware of how much I wanted to do and how there would never be enough time to get it all done. Then I stumbled upon a poem. As I read the first line, “It’s raining, but you could come over and get wrapped up in one of my blankets,” my heart slowed again.

The poem (written by Mike, the man behind the website named A Typewriter and a Camera) went on to suggest how two people in love might pass the time on a rainy day. “I could strum my guitar while you sing some of the words you wrote on the train. We could try to fix the record player or run through the storm to get some wine.” The last line choked me up: “You could tell me all about tomorrow, and I’ll kiss your stomach and listen forever.”

Forever. The word reverberated in my head. It was the stuff of fairy tales and dreams, and yet, a small hopeful part of me believed, even still, that it was somehow obtainable.

The poem took me back to a weekend I’d spent at David’s apartment nearly ten years ago. It was not long after we met, so we were still very much in the “getting to know you” phase — months before we would consider ourselves “a thing.” I turned off my phone that weekend, I think, for the first time ever. We spent two days lounging about, listening to music, and talking, marveling at each new discovery we made about each other. We didn’t set foot outside. When we got hungry, we made do with whatever food we could find in David’s cupboards. The world beyond the walls faded away; there was nothing but us, and we felt like we had all the time in the universe.

On days like yesterday, a day with so many scheduled tasks that my calendar looked like an Impressionist painting, it’s hard to imagine taking an entire weekend, two whole days, to just be. But I cannot lament and it would be absurd to complain — I’ve got no one to blame for my perceived lack of time but myself.

I hate it when people say, “I have no time.” No one has time. As Thoreau put it, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” Whenever I complained about time as a child, my father would remind me that I had as much time in the day as Einstein did. He would change out the name; sometimes it was Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin, but the sentiment was always the same — time is what you make of it.

Maybe, I mused as I gazed at my daily to-do list, maybe the sense of having no time emerges when our puny brains try to imbue time with physicality. Maybe if I were more concerned about those moments than the invisible line connecting them, I’d be able to live within that poem.

Every morning I wake up worrying about things I didn’t do, calls I didn’t make, emails I forgot to respond to. I am always fretting about the past and agonizing about the future.

I keep telling myself I’m going to take some time — like, really take it, the way I did without thinking during that weekend with David so many years ago. I tell myself I will turn off my phone, I will ignore email and tweets and updates and headlines and that voice in my head that is always asking, always nagging, What didn’t you do? But first I must convince myself that all those things can wait. That the urgency I feel in my chest is my own making, and that no one is going to die if I don’t answer every phone call.

I will bring my mind to the present moment and stay there for as long as I can. And if I succeed, even for a short time — if I am able to look at David and see only his face, if I can allow all the noise in my head to fade away so that it is only his voice I hear when we are together — then time itself will disappear, and I will experience eternity.

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