Reminders about the end of daylight saving time have begun to crop up, opportunities for a little congenial and inconsequential grumping in the midst of Eurozone crises, premature snow and political theatre. Some wish “the longer day” would be made permanent. Others consider the fuss over “falling back” nothing more than a relic of another time, like barn-raisings and butter churns.
The annual discussions are repetitive, and predictable as the seasons. Does our clock manipulation save energy? Should it be standardized across the country? Does it help or hurt school children?
I don’t think definitive answers are possible, and I personally don’t care. Like an old-fashioned farmer, I work by the sun, not the clock. Grandma liked to say she worked from “kin to cain’t” – from the moment when the first bird took flight into the dawn until the last light faded against the hills – and I love embodying that part of her tradition. Still, living as I do in a world of clock-and-calendar sorts, it’s important to take their realities into account – including the transition back to “standard” time.
One friend takes the mandate to set her clocks back one hour at 2 a.m. so seriously she sets an alarm. A bit of a literalist, she doesn’t want to be late in meeting her civic obligation, but she doesn’t want to be early, either. She’s done it that way for years, and for years I’ve given her a hard time about it. Unflappable, she says that’s the way it’s “supposed” to be done, and if only everyone would get up in the middle of the night and set their clocks as they’re told, fewer people would be late for worship on Sunday morning, or miss their favorite television program.
I’ve never dared tell her about my approach to the end of daylight saving time. There’s no question she’d be scandalized, and perhaps even tempted to give me a middle-of-the-night call just to get me moving. She’d be testing our friendship, because I rarely prowl in the middle of the night, and can’t imagine getting up to change clock settings. I don’t even reset them before I go to bed, as many do, or adjust them first thing in the morning after the change.
Instead, I consider that hour we “gain” as we “fall back” to be 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 find a frivolous use for 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 secret time safely tucked into my pocket. When I decide I need that extra hour, I use it first and then reset the clocks, putting myself back in synch with everyone else.
Years ago, when I had a “real” job and was expected to show up at weekend events, it wasn’t so easy. By Sunday afternoon, I often had to be on the same schedule as my co-workers. 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 those especially pleasant February afternoons when rose-pruning or park-walking are nearly unbearable temptations.
Still, within reasonable limits, choosing a use for that extra hour can be delightful. Imagine, for example, that you’ve spent the entire day-after-daylight-saving-time-ends doing paperwork, or laundry. At 5 o’clock, you decide you’ve had enough. You pull out your extra hour, declare it 4 o’clock, and sit back and relax. If you’d prefer a leisurely, late-afternoon walk, it’s just as simple. Tuck your extra hour into your bag and set off at a brisk clip until you feel yourself tiring. Then, take out your bit of time and slow down, secure in the knowlege you’ll be home for dinner.
Of course it’s a little crazy, this pretense of mine,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 my extra hour talking with a friend on the phone and browsing a bookstore. Once, I took a nap. I’ve used the time early, and I’ve used the time late. But always I use it with full awareness that it is my hour, to do with as I please. If I choose to save it until Monday morning and dedicate it to an extra cup of coffee and a browse through the blogs, so be it.
It’s a game, of course, this pretending that I have a time-treasure hidden away in my pocket like a shiny new dime. But having time is only the first pleasure of this autumn game. True joy lies in deciding how it will be spent, and in the spending the lesson learned is simplicity itself: what is true for an hour is true for a day, and as the days add up, they become the sum and substance of our lives.
Rising on any given morning, the chunk of time I see lying at the edge of my life is larger than my little play-hour, but it’s still my time, and my responsibility to determine how it will be spent. Certain decisions – to be employed, to seek education, to raise children or work within the community – predetermine much of our day’s normal course, but each day there are bits and pieces of time lying about which remain ours and ours alone: hours waiting to be used for creation, renewal, reflection and relationship. Of course none of us has any “extra” time. But we have all the time there is, and wisely used, that is time and gift 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 still endures, pouring down freely from eternity’s store for us to dispose of as we will. Our hours may have been reset, but the opportunity to shape our time remains.
The clocks are ticking.