New Years: Time Enough to Give and Receive Love

December 31

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and had time enough.”  -Rabindranath Tagore

As I teenager I once attended a New Year’s Eve service, at which it was impressed on us that every minute was precious. We should never waste a minute because we would never have it back. From this I understood that to waste time meant to be unproductive. Being a serious-minded, idealistic, conscientious youth, I tried to comply. No, I didn’t try to comply – I continued to live just as before but I felt guilty for wasting time.

The western world did not always have this concept of time. Time was measured very differently in 12th century Europe.  Minutes were not needed before trains and train schedules.   Europeans divided the day into 7 hours of equal length.  A winter hour, because of shorter days, was about 60 minutes.  A summer hour was 150 minutes. 

By the 1300’s mechanical clocks were in existence and installed in churches and town halls.  Imagine a world in which a watch or a clock meant nothing.  What of the concept of wasting time?  In middle times as in some regions of the world today, wasting time would mean not doing something when it needed to be done.

In middle times, time was NOT money. Our idea of not wasting time is to cram some activity into every second and every minute of the day and to plan our days so that there is no time ‘lost’.  We study economy of movement, so we can get more done in less time. Mystics and faith leaders of diverse traditions have spoken out about the perversion of seeing ourselves as cogs in wheels and units of production, rather than the creative, relational people we are.

Time is precious but it is not meant to be a tyrant. Everyone needs some unstructured time for good physical, mental and spiritual health. Sometimes we stigmatize unstructured time as boredom. We need to remind ourselves that boredom is the cradle of creativity, (which anyone who spends any time with children knows from experience.)

Those of us who because of personality or time in life are active and productive can find satisfaction and joy in our activity.  For others of us, sometimes it takes heroic energy to get out of bed and to accomplish the simple tasks. In either case time can be a task-master or a friend. Wisdom calls us to see the big picture; how can I live so as to give priority to what is most important to me?

Maybe this New Year instead of making resolutions to not waste time we could step back to see how to simplify our lives so that we are less driven by time as a tyrant, and more inspired by time as a gift to share with others.

Gratitude Prompt: Give thanks for the year that is passing and hope for the year ahead.

Author of above quote, India’s Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941), was Asia’s first noble laureate (in literature).  He was also a driving force in India’s social reforms through his leadership in Brahmo Samaj, a reform movement within Hinduism.