The Turning Of The Clocks
In thrall and fear of time
I disturbed a flock of pigeons in the woods the other day. They took off with great huffing wingbeats, and I stopped to watch them flap through the canopy and disappear into the remains of the day. It was dusk. I was running. And in the way that only running in the woods in the swirling twilight can bring, my senses tingled with adrenalin and maybe the shy beginnings of fear.
And I remember the pigeons now because I’ve been thinking about time a lot. I’ve realised it’s maybe the thing I think about more than anything else. And it’s moments like this, innocuous, ordinary moments that come and go without anyone ever noticing, moments that would happen if you were there to witness them or not, but are made extraordinary for the fact that you do. It’s moments like this that both begin and end me.
I’ve thought about those pigeons more than seems explainable. It was important, somehow, because it’s an image that’s come back to me for several days when I’ve felt pressured by time. And these moments that cut through the way time punctuates our daily language are vital.
In life, time is wielded like a blade. There’s never enough time. We want to know what time? Or how long do I have? We’re just on time, late, too early, far too late. Heaven forbid we’re wasting time.
Always, the clock’s ticking.
It doesn’t help that my working day is dictated by time. Fifty minute periods. Four-and-a-half day weeks. Four terms a year. Exam time. Reporting time. Holiday time. Coursework time. Break time. Lunch time. Home time. Deadline time. Collegiate time. The Working Time Agreement. It’s a constant state of thinking about what’s next. What’s the next thing I have to do?
Sometimes I sit in my classroom at the end of the day, after everyone has gone home. And I’ll just sit there, thinking about all the things I haven’t had time to do, yet still not doing any of them. And I’ll sit in the thick, resonating silence. Just sitting, thinking about time passing.
In its best form, running is an antidote to all of this, a small window of clarity into purpose, like smearing condensation from glass. Just get up and run, I tell myself in times of stasis. Things will be better after. To run feels purposeful, even if the purpose isn’t defined.
Running is a shield against the oppressive weight of time. In the days where I can’t clearly identify where the time has gone, or what I did with my time, I can, at the very least, mark the day with a run. I can think I did that, I went there. I started something and finished it. There’s a record of miles covered and feet climbed. Meaningless, really, but enough for a moment or two.
Yesterday I ran in the woods with a colleague and friend, in a hidden place where few people go and moss blooms in joyous green pillows. It was a beautiful day. We took off our shoes and ran between trees in dappled late afternoon sunshine and marvelled at it all.
He’d been up a mountain earlier, the friend I was with, and he’d been running. “Excuse me”, a German lady had asked, “but why are you running?”
She didn’t mean it rudely, he said, but rather why would you choose to move too quickly through a landscape that might be best appreciated at a slower pace.
“I don’t know”, he said, contemplating her question. “Maybe because I can.”
It’s a question I’ve heard asked many times, and as he told me yesterday, I realised I’d heard few better answers. Running needs nothing more than that.
Simplicity is at the heart of why I do it, too. But for me, it’s also about time. I run in spite of time, not for it. I run for the unexpected moments when all else dissolves and the world becomes nothing more complex than just me alone, running. I run to be stopped in my tracks, struck by the ordinary beauty of the flights of birds.
I’m sure this is antithetical to lots of runners. Maybe it feels like that to you, reading now. Time is how we measure progress. It’s how we compare ourselves to others. And it’s how we know where the starts and ends are. But for me, running is a way to shake these constraints, if only for a short while.
Pressures of time are passed on, hurried down the line. I’m forever telling my kids to hurry up, and not just now, and in a wee while, and maybe later, and get your shoes on, we’re late…
But that’s not fair. The hurry is mine, not theirs, nor should it be. Why should I rob them of the hazy days of childhood because I’m so painfully aware how distant mine is? I remember my parents doing it to me, and I couldn’t understand it then.
Wouldn’t life seem more palatable if we broke it only into days, nights and seasons? Birds don’t think in hours and minutes. They think in sunrise and sunset. They think in the thawing of snow, the slow browning of leaves, or the gradual stretch of the light. They don’t think of turning clocks.
And I don’t want to either.