Time is a Pillar of Smoke

Try to grab a handful of smoke… Just try it. There’s nothing there.  Except, if you’re lucky a little residual aroma which isn’t really the smoke at all. It’s something quite other.

I’ve always had a very tenuous relationship with time.  In so many ways time has seemed irrelevant to me.  Much of my life I was self-employed so I wasn’t literally punching clocks.  I could charge or not charge the hours I actually spent on a project at my discretion; and for a good portion of my life I wasn’t even thinking about charging for services.  I gave away years of time that others would have spent building a career to causes that meant something to both of us.  Time — as many people see it — as little meaning to me.

That said,  I’ve been thinking lately about the inevitable passage of time.  And the way in which it is…. just like a pillar of smoke that one cannot grab and hold, the way a puff of air will move it away or dissipate it, and how any thoughts of “control” are foolish and doomed.

smoking campfire

Camp-hosts may never get the aroma out of their nostrils during their whole stay as hosts.

It is peculiar that for a guy with incredible powers of concentration — such that the passage of time seems irrelevant, that I have a hard time with enduring.  I can handle waiting for something to arrive.  But I’m not very good about staying in something when the reason for being there is over.

I’m told by my wife that part of the reason she noticed me in the first place is that on the occasion of our first real meeting (at a church youth conference — and we weren’t children, but were there anyway) it had come to her attention that I had labored through the night at the printing firm where I was working to be able to complete the job I was working on and make it to the conference. For whatever reason, that stick-to-it-ness appealed to her I’m told.

The fact of the matter is that I always seem to be in a cocoon of time.  Ask my wife who it was that wanted to paint the kitchen ceiling on the day before Christmas the first year we were married.  Of the guy who tells his father he’ll be ‘there’ to help him in 15 minutes and is honestly unaware when 4 hours have passed and his dad comes looking for him.  I simply don’t think about time.

campfire smoke

Sunday as we began site cleaning after campers left there was still a pall of campfire smoke in the campground

Nowadays when whatever agency we might be volunteering for ask for a list of hours we worked — that seems to me almost an inhuman burden to put on anyone… how the heck am I supposed to know how much time I spent on something.  I don’t think in those terms. I do the best I can, but time-keeping is alien to me.

On our way from Grenada to Highland Ridge we talked a lot about where we are going after Highland Ridge and we hadn’t even arrived yet. (no, we didn’t reach any conclusions) Contrariwise, since arriving we haven’t spoken about the future since.  I only thought about it during transit because we were “between” events, between destinations and my brain was ‘empty’.  Right now, the future is a long way away because I’m in the middle of enjoying where we are.

I enjoy looking forward to new events.  I suppose most people do.  I know my/our daughter does;  she’s a planning machine! She loves anticipation!

I hear people talk about staying in the moment and to be honest I’m not sure I understand what that means.  It’s not as if one can’t hold multiple thoughts in their brain simultaneously.  I have never been able to tell whether I’m good at staying in the moment or not.  Thoughts run through my brain pretty rapidly.  Peggy will inquire why I said or asked something and on the occasions that I take the time to actually explain it’s like the thought that caused the statement/question was seven or eight subjects downstream from something I was thinking quite unrelated to the spoken words.  The moments in-between are surely attempts to grasp a moment, a pillar of smoke.

If you thought I was going to talk about making the best use of your time on earth… well, that’s not what today is about.  That’s true.  But I’m a firm believer in living each moment and as a result I don’t find myself regretting things.  If I do the best job I can at any given moment, making decisions with the best information I have at the time, that’s all I can do.  If someone wants to judge that good or bad — that’s up to them.  I’ve done what I can.  I’ve lived the best life I was able at that moment.  I will learn over time, and maybe make better choices next time, but the choice I made yesterday was the best one I could make.

No — today is more about realization.  One friend is facing possible surgery and commented that they don’t “like” the idea of surgery.  But, you know, life isn’t about what we like. At least not most of the time.  It’s more about what we need to do.  And if we can find joy and happiness in what we have to do, that’s a whole lot better than merely doing what we like.

I think there’s a wisdom in staying aware of the passage of time.  Awareness makes time more precious.  I think it heightens our appreciation of our time on earth.  I will never forget that one summer after graduating from high school I took a call from the father of one of my school chums to tell me his son had crashed his motorcycle into a tree in Germany.  I’d been to multiple funerals already by that time, but this was the first guy my own age who met with the Grim Reaper and his passing served as a lifelong reminder of the preciousness of each moment we have.  For whatever “reason” I’ve lived another half century longer than he.  I hope that all that living has done some good for others and has made me into something worthy of all that time on earth.  But even after all that time I have no more control over time than he did.  I cannot that pillar of smoke.  I cannot hold onto time.

When I was young I remember looking at older folks sitting on benches.  In those days I never sat still, ever. If I had nothing else to do I would reading.  I still rarely sit around.   However since retirement I’m learning to enjoy outdoor moments of sitting; moments to absorb what’s around me on as many levels as I can.  I’m not ready for the porch… not ready to spend endless hours sitting… but once in a while a little cessation is nice.  More time with sounds not made by electricity is nice.  More times with creatures that don’t speak a language recorded in any dictionary is inspiring.

I may not be able to grab hold of that pillar of smoke — but maybe I’m learning how to blow on it to go in some direction that I can keep the smoke out of my eyes….

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll be here tomorrow.



7 thoughts on “Time is a Pillar of Smoke

  1. Peter, I have followed your blog for some time now, but never commented. This post stuck a particular chord with me, so I had to let you know how much I enjoy your thoughtful and articulate writing. Turning 70 recently has had more of an effect on me than I realized. Your words,captured my feelings so well. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sometimes I think those people sitting on the porch are smart enough to enjoy all the beauty that exists in life if one just stops to notice…and after a lifetime of being too busy to notice…they have figured out it’s okay to stop once in a while. Me, I could never stop for long but I do enjoy those moments when I can.


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