The Great Gift of Time (and Its Proxies)

Photo courtesy National Park Service, via Wikimedia Commons



Some of my earliest memories, I realize now, are actually of time. The invisible wind making a wave that approached in the prairie grass; dappled light under the tree that changed with the incidence of the sun. The fatigue of long summer days—heat, humidity, playing with friends, water breaks. Time for this and for that; time to spend time with the dog and our many cats. To watch a box turtle slowly chew mulberries on the path, then to be surprised when it had disappeared, like magic, because my attention wandered for longer than I measured. To savor the green dream of love, with its promised riches of experience, in the onset of mosquitoes and lightning bugs at dusk.

Everything is time. More accurately, everything is mystery propagated in energy and manifested in playful forms of temporal matter. Our food: raised, grown, harvested, slaughtered, milled, processed, packed, shipped, and prepared in time. Our reputations, our fashions, our technologies, not as of the moment as they might seem. The gasoline my mother dripped on piles of leaves at the curb in the fall, the smell and the crump of flame, made possible by thousands of millennia of heat and pressure. The burning was deceptively quick but continues to wend into the future. Mountains wore down, became rounded and gentle, in the time of that transaction. My Uncle Paul, who worked for a Ford dealer and laughed a lot, was alive just yesterday—he died half a century ago.

I think now and then of people criticizing Lincoln for being overindulgent with his sons.

Time is the greatest benefit, after a personal platform: shelter, sustenance, education, caring. The happy home embodies the time of a life. Cool from the vents—it is hot out now, hotter than yesterday, which was hotter than the day before—a cat lies on the back of the couch in the sun, the neighbor dog sniffs the door. A wall of books and time to crawl down their sentences toward their conclusions. Children are in the house, for now.

The nearby river, full of mountains, flows; the plants, full of water, grow; crows call they will no longer be judged by that hawk. They are happy when they are together or hear each other’s voices. They sit like musical notes on a staff. They flap like fish sharing the sea. Time has little to do with career or ease of purchase, and everything to do with life and democracy.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.