Life has always struck me as an existential joke. It’s short, but it’s also full of places, people, and ideas to be experienced. I realized when I was young that the more someone wants to experience, the shorter life seems. For people like me, there will never be enough time. As a result, I have always felt like I have been racing against my own goal to cram as much as I can into each day. No matter how much I accomplish, I always wake up regretting that I didn’t do more the day before.
Ever since I became familiar with basic math, I’ve viewed the second hand on a clock or a watch as a subtraction sign. Sometimes in school I would stare at the standard issue round clock with the black Helvetica numbering that hung above the chalkboard in each classroom. Every time the red second hand advanced I would think, There goes another second of my life. There goes another one. There goes . . . I’ve often felt that time should be addressed backward instead of forward. The Debbie Downer in me has thought that on a birthday or milestone instead of the number of years on earth, we should stick a wax “t – x” in our cakes. T would stand for the time we have each been given to accomplish all that we are meant to do, minus x – whatever amount has passed since we started our journey called life.
I believe that time is God’s gift to me – which provides the opportunity to enjoy this life I’ve been given. I believe that this is the purpose of life: enjoy it without hurting others, and allow others to do the same. I know that others may view my never-idle existence and question how much I could possibly know about enjoying life.
Unfortunately for my family, my idea of enjoying life is packing as much as I possibly can into every single minute. I think I’ve caused my children to hate traveling with me because there’s just so much to see and discover on new terrain – and so little time to do it!
We went through South Dakota’s Badlands for the first time as a family in 2002 on our first family road trip. We didn’t intend to stop; we were heading out to the west coast for a wedding. This was before we had access to Mapquest, Google maps, or GPS, so we were lost and wound around the outskirts of what our map had labeled as the Badlands area. It felt like way too much time was wasted while searching for I-90. I kept saying to the kids excitedly that we were in the Badlands. They looked at the unimpressive dusty bumps in the distance and said, “Oh.” Eventually, a road leading to I-90 took us to a park station where we were charged $10.00 just to be on the road. My husband said we were just trying to get to I-90. So the park ranger handed him a time-stamped receipt and said if we could make it from that station to the next station in fifteen minutes, we would get our ten dollars back. I excitedly thought, Now this is my kind of trip! I noted the time on the car clock and said, “Go!”
As we drove through an amazing landscape, I realized we were in the heart of the Badlands – it was just as amazing as it was the first time I saw it as a kid. Of course we ended up behind extremely slow moving vehicles, apparently out for a Sunday drive. We slowly wound through the park and finally the other park station was in sight . . . but so was the most impressive view of the Badlands. I glanced at the clock. Two minutes left to get our $10.00 refund. Ten dollars or see the amazing view? Ten dollars or the view? “Both!”
I made my husband pull over into a little parking lot. I told him and the kids to jump out of the car and follow me. I ran down an extremely long path and glanced back once in a while to make sure they hadn’t jumped back in the car and continued on the trip out west without me. At the edge of the path I introduced my kids to the real Badlands. They took in the impressive view for ten seconds. I snapped a picture so that they could look back on that special moment with fondness. Then I shouted, “Now run to the car as fast as you can! We’ve got ten dollars on the line!” We all turned and ran to the car and jumped in.
We drove to the park station and handed over our receipt. We had seconds to spare. We saw the real Badlands and got our ten dollars back! I really didn’t care about the money because we had just dropped a significant amount of money on a jack-a-lope and a figurine made out of real cat fur at Wall Drug. It was being able to accomplish two things in that fifteen minutes that motivated me – seeing the Badlands and getting something at the other park station as a reward for racing against the clock. This was my family’s introduction to the “Julie way” to travel. And for the next thirty miles, my seven year-old son chanted over and over, “We saw the Badlands for free! We saw the Badlands for free!”
One thing that I’ve learned in my t – 48.25 years is that time is indeed relative and enjoyment is subjective. Some people find enjoyment in just watching television or just sitting on the beach. I enjoy these things too – if you take out the “just” part. It is very stressful for me to do just one thing at a time. I am happy to watch television, but I need to let the wheels spin in my brain so while watching shows, I enjoy balancing the checkbook, planning the week’s menu, scheduling the week’s activities, writing a story in my head. I’m also happy to sit on the beach, but I also have to be building a sand castle, or a mermaid, or examining the shells around me while I sit.
One man’s stress is another man’s pleasure. I’m pretty sure my pleasures would be stressful to many people. I truly enjoy doing multiple projects at the same time and I know that my performance on each is better as a result. The best way to torture me is to tell me to sit down and do nothing, because of the loud ticking I can hear coming from my internal clock when I sit quietly. Oh, look at the time: it’s t – x o’clock. I have to go get something else done.
I wish time wasn’t so relevant to me.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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