Time is a gift.
I feel like I’ve learnt that the hard way.
In 2018 my younger sister died aged 29. A couple of months later my first child was born and before the year was out both of my grandmothers had passed away. When you write it down like that it sounds like a remarkably intense period of time, but in the moment you live day by day, doing the best for yourself and those around you.
For time with loved ones to be so swiftly taken away, and also granted to me, only cemented how deeply grateful I am for the time that we do have together, a gift that we should treasure. This, along with the collective experience of the pandemic, was my reason for starting Taking Time. A year-long exploration of as many facets of time that we could fit in.
Many of the articles that we have shared throughout the year on Taking Time have broadly pointed to our consideration of time with a view to spending it wisely, engaging deeply and inviting us to reflect on our personal and collective ecological place within our world. There has been much written in recent years rallying against our penchant for busyness, the requirement for greater mindfulness and the benefits of slowing down. Many of us live as if we will live forever, we get trapped into the idea of busyness as productivity, misunderstanding the ‘doing’ for ‘being’. As my good friend Andy Kelham wrote last week, sometimes it can be hard to carpe the diems.
However, as the greatest gift that we could be bestowed, time is not something that we can store up, save for those moments we need it most or jealously hold onto, in fact, I would suggest that the value of our time will only increase the more generous we are with it. Give the gift of time.
It is a countercultural notion that in order to gain we should give something away, yet there is a sense of pleasure and gratification to be had from offering our time to others. To share in a moment, to teach, help, care or cover their responsibilities to enable them to rest or enjoy themselves.
Annie Dillard, in writing about generosity of spirit acknowledges that “Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.” So perhaps we can go as far to say that our true appreciation of time is only realised when we are generous with it.
The practice of giving our time will invite many of us to revisit our existing priorities and commitments. Being bound by our employers can often inflict a sense of being trapped without the autonomy to decide for ourselves how our time is used. Perhaps there are ways to address this in the longer term, but in the short term, I’d suggest that we can all cultivate a sense of care for those around us, simply by being present.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Simone Weil
By being aware of each other, by asking considerate questions and being willing to actively listen to answers, we enable a sense of empathy and respect which can so often feel absent from our relationships, whether that’s within our own homes or with strangers in a public setting. Each small act of attention contributes to a broader sense of care, an awareness of the ups and downs of each other's lives, an understanding that allows us to give and receive the gift of time when it is required.
“There is not a man who, when he has benefited his neighbour, has not benefited himself, — I do not mean for the reason that he whom you have aided will desire to aid you, or that he whom you have defended will desire to protect you, or that an example of good conduct returns in a circle to benefit the doer … but that the reward for all the virtues lies in the virtues themselves. For they are not practised with a view to recompense; the wages of a good deed is to have done it.” - Seneca
Knowing where to give your time can be a trial in itself, but calculating its perceived value is a slippery slope. As with many aspects of this life, there is a lesson in the doing, a sense of embracing the journey in the knowledge that it won’t always be smooth. Giving your time, and in turn yourself, to others is as wonderful a gesture as any can make, but as Seneca writes, it is not about the expectation of reward or even recognition.
“The wise man… enjoys the giving more than the recipient enjoys the receiving” - Seneca
Some people may not even acknowledge what you have given, others will let you down, some might make judgements on your decisions and want to put you straight. I write this not as a dissuasion from being generous, but merely as an appreciation of life’s ability to bring us back down to earth. For all those gestures that go unnoticed, others, whether they be for strangers or family members, will smile, thank you, affirm you, and make life resonate with a sense of warmth that is hard to find anywhere else. Personally, on this basis it’s simple enough to work out how to spend my time.
To give your time is not to give it away. Give freely, willingly and without expectation of reward, knowing that you have made a contribution and that is sufficient.
P.S. It is my hope that Taking Time has aided your appreciation of the time you have at hand. It has been a privilege to share such a broad consideration of thoughts and ideas from some of my favourites writers. Thank you for reading.