Considering the past, present and future is time well-spent


January 08, 1995|By Susan Hipsley | Susan Hipsley,Special to The Sun

To every purpose there is a season, and this sigh-of-relief, post-holiday month demands thoughtfulness. There's last year to put into perspective, the coming year to anticipate and the present to be lived as wisely and well as possible. It can be the most valuable time we allot ourselves all year.

Author Robert Grudin says most people live as if the phone were always ringing. We attend so closely to life's thousands of daily, ultimately inconsequential demands that we neglect to give ourselves the gift of time. "Time to just think about things," he says in a telephone interview, "to enter into a fairyland of thought."

Mr. Grudin's is the voice of experience. In the late '70s, this professor of English at the University of Oregon borrowed a sum of money equal to that which he would earn in a year, took a sabbatical and sat down to think about time.

He considered it from every conceivable angle. He thought about how time affects love, creativity, morality, achievement, identity. About how we are bound and freed by time. And about the possibility for expanding time and enriching life through planning and reflecting on the past, present and future as a continuum rather than as discreet units.

He recorded his thoughts. "Time and the Art of Living" (Ticknor & Fields, 1988, paperback) was released in 1982 in hardback by Harper & Row. However, he tells readers, "I did not borrow this money in order to write a book. I borrowed it in order to have free time."

He nonetheless ended up with a book that now may be old by publishing standards, but which is still as fresh as this second. It's still being reprinted and recommended by word of mouth.

And with good reason. "Time and the Art of Living" provides the substantive and tasty fodder that leads to one's own lively discourse.

Here's an example pertinent to the season: "The future is like a friendly stranger, polite and patient, forever trying to get acquainted with us, forever being rebuffed. If we did simple exercises for thirty minutes a day, we would greatly improve our strength, health, beauty and life expectancy. If we studied for one hour a day, we could relatively soon learn languages, master wide knowledge and develop new professions. If we sensibly invested $1 a day, we would in thirty years control substantial wealth. If we did ourselves the almost absurdly simple honor of planning our free time, we would enlarge ourselves into a whole new dimension of freedom."

Mr. Grudin says one worthwhile plan for a chunk of free time would be to carve out an area where it's possible to think. He maintains this is possible for most people. The space need not be of grand proportions. "We all need a studio. Some place to think and be creative," he says. "Unfortunately, there's no place for a studio in most of these tract homes, which is where so many people live." But he suggests that even a sanctified nook with a chair will do. "And if you live in a studio apartment, you can walk outside for an hour each day or go to a coffee shop."

Wherever that place may be, Mr. Grudin urges that it be used at least in part to develop an awareness of time -- to view time as an internal part of who and where we are as evidenced by the fact we have a past, a present and a future.

"To give yourself this meditative time on a regular basis is like opening a window. The window you're opening is into that poetic and compassionate and mystical and sometimes delightful and uproarious and passionate side of life."


What do you do to save time, to make life easier? What have you cut down on or cut out to make more time for yourself and your family? Have you found a way to simplify your lifestyle? Call the Sundial number that follows to tell us your tips and thoughts. Future columns will feature your ideas. Be sure to leave your name, city of residence and daytime phone number when you call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6220 after you hear the greeting.

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