When reminders about the end of daylight savings time began to crop up last month, the usual congenial grumping began. Some people wished it never would end. Others expressed hope the practice would be abolished. Arguments broke out at dinner tables and over fences: is the practice left over from a more agricultural society? Does it really save energy? Should it be standardized across the country? Does it help or hurt school children?
At least for now, Daylight Savings time is gone, but the transition back to Standard time always amuses me. I have one friend who takes the reminder to set clocks back one hour at 2 a.m. so literally she sets an alarm to wake her at 1:45. She doesn’t want to be late in meeting her civic obligation. She’s done it for years, and for years I’ve given her a bit of a hard time about it. She says she does it because that’s the way it’s “supposed” to be done, and if everyone would get up in the middle of the night and set their clocks as they’re told, we wouldn’t have so many people being late for Church or missing television programs on Sunday.
I’ve never dared tell her about my approach to the end of daylight savings time. If she knew, she’d be scandalized, and probably would be knocking at my door at 2:05 to get me moving. She’d have to, because the fact is I’ve never risen in the middle of the night to change clock settings. I don’t even reset them before I go to bed, as my mother does, or adjust everything, one by one, as I move toward the first early sunset the day after the change.
The way I see it, that hour we “gain” as we “fall back” is pure gift. It’s a little chunk of time, just lying there at the edge of my life, and it’s mine to do with as I please. Every year, I save my hour of re-claimed time until I need it, or decide what to do with it. While everyone else is running around resetting clocks, I’m sitting back with my feet up and a smile on my face, secure in the knowledge of that hour safely tucked into my pocket. When I decide I need that extra hour, I reset the clocks, and am back in synch with everyone else.
In the days when I had a “real” job and was expected to show up at an office, it wasn’t so easy. I had to be running on the same schedule as my co-workers by Monday morning at the latest. Even now, there are limits to how long I can hold on to my hour. It really isn’t feasible to keep it for Christmas shopping in December, or an especially pleasant February day when you want to take a walk. But, within reasonable limits, deciding what to do with my extra hour can be a real kick.
Just imagine – you’ve spent the entire day-after-daylight-savings-time-ends doing work around the house, and suddenly at 5 o’clock, you decide you’ve had enough. You just pull out your extra hour, declare it 4 o’clock, and sit back and relax. Perhaps you’d like to take a long, sunset walk. With an extra hour tucked into your bag, it’s no problem. You set off at a brisk clip until you feel yourself tiring. Then, you take out your bit of time and slow down, secure in the knowlege you’ll be home in time for dinner.
It may sound crazy, but I’ve done it for years. I’ve used my extra hour to repot African violets, read The New Yorker, watch the sunset and brush the cat. I’ve spent that extra time talking on the phone with a friend, and I’ve spent it browsing a bookstore. I’ve used the time early, and I’ve used the time late. Once, I used it as late as Monday morning. I hadn’t needed it before then, so I went to bed on Sunday evening secure in the knowledge that when I arose, I could simply set the clock back, and have some extra coffee-and-paper time.
It’s a game, of course, and it’s fun knowing I have a time-treasure hidden in my pocket. But there’s a another side to my yearly game-playing. The point is not merely having the time; it’s deciding what to do with it. This year, I “spent” my extra hour doing a small favor for a friend. It was my choice, a decision freely made.
It also was a reminder that what is true for an hour is true for a day. When I rise on any given morning, the chunk of time lying at the edge of my life is larger than my little play-hour, but it’s still my responsibility to determine how it will be used. Certain decisions – to be employed, to seek education, to raise children or work within the community – predetermine much of our days’ course, but every day there are bits and pieces of time to be found which can be ours, and ours alone: for creation, renewal, reflection and relationship.
As we choose how to spend our hours and days, we begin to discover how those decisions give shape and substance to our lives. Hours become days, days turn into weeks and months, and soon the years of our lives have become the sum of our decisions. Despite my daylight-savings-time silliness, I understand that none of us has any “extra” time. But we have all the time there is, and that’s enough.
Moving from equinox to solstice, leaving the light and moving into the darkness of the year’s bleak end, we can be tempted into believing that the days themselves are shrinking, that our hours have shriveled and our minutes crumbled. But in daylight or dark, time endures, freely given from eternity’s store for us to dispose of as we choose. Our hours may have been reset, but the opportunity to shape our time remains.
The clocks are ticking.