A lot of my time seems to be spent measuring it: Thursdays I change the bed linens; Wednesday evenings call me to choir practice; Mondays bring the trash trucks to the neighborhood; my pills are apportioned for each day in a little plastic pill holder sectioned by days of the week. Today is Tuesday. Usually a free day unless I have household chores to do, or appointments somewhere. My life seems to be measured according to what the day is, and how much time to devote to particular activities.
Now I begin to consider how others might measure out their days: by how many rounds of gunfire they hear from rebels or government troops; by the meager rations of food and water are available for today; by the time left that a loved one has before dying; by anniversaries of marriages that no longer exist. Some measure their lives by how far they live from nuclear reactors damaged by a tsunami; some by how many days have passed since the earthquake, or the flood, or the fires. Some by how long it has been since a clean cup of fresh water has been available. Others by the children's lives lost because of deadly military actions.
I simply wonder how long it has been since I wrote my last blog, or how many days before I complete another book. I watch clocks. Some watch the skies for signs of danger. I watch my dog sleeping beside me. Some keep an eye on the wilderness surrounding them with unknown inhabitants: friend or foe? I open the refrigerator to see what is available for lunch. I have no idea of how others measure life.
Yet today as I write this, how many lives will end because of warfare, or illness, or suicide, or simply old age? As I write this, and as you read it, what will happen to the sea water we need to nourish us by what is in it? What ice is melting now in the Arctic and Antarctic? How many polar bears and seals and penguins will perish seeking the habitat they once had as home? I cannot measure life that way without realizing how contained my own time is, how regular and certain it is. Yet I have no guarantee that such measures will continue to be mine. Do I measure my future or simply the present?
T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons. He asks the eternal human question: "Do I dare/Disturb the universe?/ In a minute there is time/For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."
Like Prufrock I echo "I grow old . . . I grow old . . ." So how must my time be measured? I will never know unless I see how others measure their lives, unless they teach me the meaning of each moment.