Chapter 26 — Minutes to Twelve

In a small gift shop in Phillipsburg, on the Caribbean island of St. Martin,  the shopkeeper and a friend were discussing a man who was teaching the shopkeeper to drive.  But he was apparently not devoting sufficient time for her to learn, and she wasn’t sure she would be ready for the license test.

“Minutes to twelve, he come.  Minutes to one, he gone,” the shopkeeper said.

How many minutes?   It was  a natural question for someone coming from a culture in which precision of the clock rules the day.  Where I live,  a minute lost or wasted is a minute that will never come back and serve a useful purpose.  It’s gone.

But perhaps to people who live in a sun-baked land where the outside temperature ranges from hot to relentless, how many minutes is not so important.

How many minutes doesn’t seem to be important to dogs, either.  You never see a dog checking her watch or opening her cell phone to find out what time it is.  When daylight comes, dogs get up.  When they spot a squirrel on the ground,  they stop whatever they are doing, freeze and begin to stalk.  Lift one forepaw.  Set it down.  Lift one hind paw.  Set it down.  Repeat.

How long should you stalk a squirrel before it is no longer cost-effective to continue?  There probably isn’t a dog in the world who could relate to  that question.  What difference does it make if you’ve got all day and nothing is more important than the squirrel in front of you?  When the squirrel bolts and races up a tree, it’s over.  You move on.  When you have nothing  pressing to do, you nap.

Some people live that way in retirement.  They take off their watches, because life no longer requires them to be at a specific place at a specific time.  They stop to talk with people on bike paths and sidewalks, because wherever they are going will wait until they get there.  They become unhurried.

But even retirees who have renounced the clock must conform in some ways.  Doctors and dentists won’t see them if they don’t arrive at the appointed hour.  Church services won’t wait.  And other people who have arranged to meet them may be highly annoyed—or no longer waiting—if they arrive half an hour late.

No-clock people risk time becoming empty, risk staring at the hours ahead and wondering how  to fill them.

Where’s  the balance?  I don’t know.  Perhaps dogs live the way they do only because they don’t have watches.  Perhaps they dream of lives that would require day minders.

Perhaps the question can only be answered individually.


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