Spending Time

I do not profess to dislike the Internet. This invention – if you can even call it that, being that its advance has changed our entire world in such a short time and is actually more of a movement, an evolution, no, a revolution – is a gift. We can tap on the keyboard and send flowers to a new mother. We can click a mouse and receive groceries delivered in a white truck, a bearded man tumbling out with two bins and a week’s worth of fresh produce. We can log in to our browser and pay seven bills in thirty seconds or less.

On paper, it seems, we have saved as much time as is possible.

Last week, in my own home in the Midwest, we received five inches of snow. As I bundled up Bee for a full day of errands – hat on, left glove, then right, no, the other right – it occurred to me she had outgrown last year’s snow boots, and we had high hopes of building a snowman later. As I weighed my options, it was obvious to me that the best decision – the one promising adventure and experience – was to visit the local thrift store for a replacement pair. But this required a bit of time and energy, and we were admittedly low on both, and it was easier, of course, to hop online.

Two days later, new boots arrived in a cardboard box.

What had I done with the time I’d saved?

My grandmother’s generation often shares of the atmosphere that dishwashers, laundry machines and modern appliances created in their homes as young women. Suddenly, with the flip of a switch, chores could be completed in minutes with little to no effort. Gone were the days of washbasins, of neighborly gossip amongst wooden clothespins and sun-dried sheets, children playing underfoot. Instead, the modern housewife was relegated to manage her machines – indoors, alone.

And although these advances offered much manual labor relief for housewives in that time period, slowly, many of them began filling their time elsewhere. Children played indoors to the hum of a dishwasher while their mothers sought out new ways to modernize their day, to quicken the pace. Years later, TV dinners arrived on the scene, to be followed by a slew of consumer-driven products marketed for housewives deserving a break – machine after machine calling for an outlet and a plug, a metaphorical tether to the indoors.

What had they done with the time they’d saved?

Our rat race is nothing new. We have become experts at filling each and every pocket of time, a faulty measure of productivity. And now, here we are, grandmothering our own generation’s hamster wheel.

If I have learned anything from the rat race – both our grandmothers’ and our own – it is that I no longer believe time can be saved if it is not later more wisely spent; if it is not kept, and held, and treasured. If it is not carried, weighty in our hands, worn as a backpack for exploration or inspiration, adventure or action, service or surrender.

Order the snow boots, I say to myself, if the time saved adventuring is wisely spent adventuring.
Grab takeout tonight, I say to myself, if the time saved serving is wisely spent serving.
Skip yoga, or the morning walk, or the dinnertime run, if the time saved in activity – gratitude for our pulsing blood, pumping hearts – is wisely spent in activity.

I believe we are built to navigate the delicate balance of precisely what we have been given. I believe we have been created to walk the path we are on. I believe we are offered time – is it always enough? or is it just enough? – for today.

I believe time cannot be squandered, earmarked. I believe time is here, and it is offered, and it is a gift not meant to be replaced with activities that promise to save more of it.

And so, today, the computer was shut. The fire was built. The snow has fallen, and the boots are thawed, and we have explored. We have adventured.

Today, we did not automate.

Time was not saved; it was kept. It was received. (It will be carried.)

It was spilled out, poured on, used.

It was spent.

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