As we grow older, a glance at the clock in many instances surprises us. Where did the time go? I guess time is as time does. Excuse the “Gump-ism,” but often I think we live in a world of “isms” and acronyms, because we are forever competing with time. Lists grow long, time is short, and we feel we must get everything done; and when it is, so are we.
Place, on the other hand— and I am not referring to our “lot in life” but rather in the physical, mental, or spiritual place we happen to be at any given moment — is always there, right in front of us. It could be staring back from our reflection in the morning mirror or from a crystal clear lake as the sun bids adieu. Our place within ourselves and within our world can easily be missed if we bow to time.
Time and place are two constants in life we hardly question because life can be so hectic. I get it, life is busy and with technology to do this and that, all while chewing gum, is still just busy getting busier. And now, with social media creating quasi-compulsive disorders every second we glance at our screens, we, more than ever, need to stop, take a breath and focus on time and place. In doing so, I believe it brings clarity — stops time, if you will — and lets us enjoy a sense of place in our life. “Take time for our place in time,” should be at the top of our “to do” list. We need not get everything done. We need not tell everyone what we are doing.
A reminder on all of this for me is in two short stories by Hermann Hesse. I find myself rereading “The City” and “The Wolf “ whenever I lose my way or sense confusion in my life. These two stories speak directly to the passage of time, the importance of place and what is missed if we do not pause, look and hopefully wonder and respect both—wherever we are.
Hesse was a German novelist and poet whose writing captured my attention when I was in my 20s. His writing for me is authentic, spiritual and, in many ways, all about the journey— the good, the bad and everything in between. In 1946, Hesse received the Nobel Prize in literature.
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” exclaims the conductor as the train pulls into the station. “The City” is an abridged creation story, minus the omnipresence, told in blinding speed, backwards. Trainloads of people arrive to a deforested area, and then the buildings go up. Towns beget cities, cities beget metropolises as more people arrive, interrupted occasionally by cataclysmic disasters that test the people and alter the geography. Cultures are born, governments come and go and the population explodes. In the end, it all ends. Nature takes hold, without man, and a woodpecker suddenly cries, “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
Man pilfers the world without thought to his place in that world, oblivious to time, and in a blink it is over. Nature has reclaimed the land, and man is no more. We, the reader, see in an instant how easy it is to become beggars trapped at time’s heels for eternity. Which, by all accounts, happens at alarming speed.
In the story “The Wolf,” the hunters from a small village in Switzerland are the alphas in their world. The story is told through the eyes of a wolf and begins as winter bears down and many animals struggle to live in the bitter cold. While the wolf is searching for food, a gunshot rings out and the wolf is hit. The panic of the wolf and the lust of man to finish the job are pure adrenaline. As with us today, amidst the rapid-fire passage of time are lost chances — orphans of opportunity— to see life beautifully unfold in everything around us. Even when cruelty invades our space, beauty is always there.
“None of them saw the beauty of the snow-covered forest, or the radiance of the high plateau, or the red moon which hovered over Chasseral, and whose faint light shimmered on their rifle barrels, on the crystalline snow, and on the blurred eyes of the dead wolf.”
Often we put off answering a question like: What would it be like or look like? We do this because we believe there is always time to come back around for the answer or like we all have said at one time or another, “There is always tomorrow.” These stories are a cumulative warning: Slow down, think before doing and always be an explorer. See it all. And a little impulsivity now and again is OK; it may make life “like a box of chocolates.”
Reading these two stories is like getting up every morning and putting on my socks. First the right foot, then the left and then all else follows. I am ready for the day. For me these stories reinforce the magic of story and place and that precious commodity— time.
Time and place, right sock and left sock, we wear them every single day whether we realize it or not. Take notice, see, listen and be sure to look at them every now and then, remembering to keep your sense of place always in view.
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