Are there not twelve hours in a day?
The New Year, she comes to me as a tall lady in spotless white, brimming with possibilities, unstained and innocent. I often imagine her as a blank slate for me to write upon or a vessel for me to fill. She delights me, for I am terribly naïve this time of year.
There are certain truths about new years and time in general that I refuse to acknowledge until at least the third week of January. This year was a little different, though, because we ushered in 2018 with colds in our heads and sore in our throats.
It’s hard to believe in perfection when you have a cough.
The annual collision of ideal and real wasn’t delayed, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A dose of reality can be good medicine if given at the right time and in the correct amount.
Both do, indeed, at once divide and announce the silent and otherwise indistinguishable lapse of time: but the man of methodical industry and honourable pursuits, does more; he realizes its ideal divisions, and gives a character and individuality to its moments. If the idle are described as killing time, he may be justly said to call it into life and moral being, while he makes it the distinct object not only of the consciousness, but of the conscience. He organizes the hours, and gives them a soul: and to that, the very essence of which is to fleet, and to have been, he communicates an imperishable and a spiritual nature. Of the good and faithful servant, whose energies, thus directed, are thus methodized, it is less truly affirmed, that he lives in time, than that time lives in him.
Now here is something worth reading five times and pondering for the remainder of a day.
My delusions of the year-as-blank-slate are fatal. That’s not the sort of control I have, nor should I desire it. And notions of time as needing to be filled ignore the truth that the hours ahead of us are already full. There is a calling on my life and so I can know with certainty that, barring an emergency, there will be laundry to do, tummies to fill, people to love, etcetera. The Lord Himself has already prepared the hours.
Coleridge’s picture here dazzles me. What meaneth this, giving the hours a soul? Certainly it is something like redeeming the time, as Scripture instructs us to do. Time: it comes to us whether we are ready or not. The river rolls on when we are sick and downtrod, as well as when we are productive and triumphant. We neither create time nor destroy it; we neither fill nor empty it. God creates ex nihilo, but we always work with pre-existing material. So with time. Like a sculptor with clay, we have one ability and that is to shape ourselves in time, as best we can, in a way that is pleasing to our Lord.
I was thinking about this while I was sick. I felt like I was wasting time, lying there, doing almost nothing. My husband asked me a question the other night and I quipped, “Don’t ask me, I just work here.” He gave me a funny look, and I added, “I’m not even sure I do that anymore. I guess I just blow my nose, mostly.”
I suppose it’s the duty of the sick to be patient and make sure the cure holds.
Hours come to us each day. It’s as inevitable as laughter following a good joke. Coleridge asks: What distinguishes the man of superior mind? We inherit these hours, and sometimes we are pleased with them, while other times we feel we made such a poor showing, it was pointless to have received them in the first place. What makes the difference? Coleridge says the difference is that the superior man has a Method — even a Method in the fragments, underneath the rubble, underlying the chaos.
Coleridge seems to use the word Method similar to how Werner Jaeger uses the word culture. It’s the relentless pursuit of an ideal.
Now there is a thought. What if I allowed my ideals to give life to my days and weeks, my hours and moments? What would the ideal look like in this moment? That’s a question that packs a punch. It might look like a cup of water to a child thirsty, a hug to someone crying, an email in manner timely. It would look like honor and duty, yes, but also justice and beauty, mercy and creativity.
Let’s take a practical example. I have fifteen minutes. What do I do with it?
As a slave to my passions, I might click on my favorite social media app. Research tells me this is a fleeting pleasure.
As a servant to a great ideal, however, I must take a moment to consider. What does the ideal look like, right now? If that question is confusing or unhelpful, another way to think of it is: Who do I want to be in 20 years? All these little choices we make each day add up to who we’re practicing to be two, three decades from now. We all become who we are are through a myriad of mostly insignificant actions.
Social media is still on the table. I don’t know about you, but there are some people I can’t keep up with in any other way. Catching up with them might be a good use of 15 minutes. I’m not an all or nothing girl on this issue. But it depends. Reading a book, making a phone call, even paying a bill — these might be better uses of the same 15 minutes. How do I do justice in this moment? Have I done my duty today?
It is easy to forget who I want to be and become amidst the daily plodding, partly because some tasks are mundane, but mostly because I fail to remember that while mundane, they remain significant.
This year, as I stare at my beautiful blank calendar and laugh off my lady in white, I make one resolution only: to often and repeatedly ask myself what it would look like if I gave this hour right here a soul.