Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sorry I'm Late (Friday's post)

Punctuality is a funny thing.  When I am punctual, I am on time.  But when is that?  In fact, what time is it?  As Yogi Berra said, "You mean, now?"  (What a neat question!  Can you imagine answering something like "No, I mean tomorrow at noon"?)

In Butterflies and Bamboo, Cambodian refugees learning how to live in California are perplexed at how American friends can travel across the city, manage all the variables of traffic and get to their house exactly on time.  When they understood the value Americans placed on getting to their house punctually and learned that they circled the block to avoid being too early, they thought it was the funniest thing they had ever heard.  

I know that many people feel that being late is a sin and an insult to those who were on time.  This belief seems common among some Americans of European descent, especially northern European.  I am mostly of that group and I am fascinated by clocks and time.  I take it as a challenge to estimate when I have to leave to be somewhere at just the appointed minute.  Whether others are also on time or not, I feel that I have won if I am very close to the right time and lost otherwise.  I tend to have a sort of clock in my head and I often challenge myself to predict the current time and then check my prediction.

Sometimes, time does get away from me.  I suddenly remember that I had an important meeting or a planned lunch and look at the clock.  Yow!  I am late right now!  Nothing I can do, no matter how fast I travel, will help.  I am already late now.  What a sinking feeling!  

There was a cartoon in the New Yorker not long ago showing a group of primitive men standing at Stonehenge at sunrise.  One of them is saying, "Now that we know how to tell time, I suggest we impose deadlines."

It is possible to love deadlines that are met and fear not meeting some.  But those not met are gone forever and will count against me in heaven.

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