Time, like sand, spills too easily

by | Sep 9, 2012 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

The funny thing about writing a book is that everyone asks you, “When’s it being published?” and then it’s published and you go on tour telling people it’s published and next thing you know, everyone is sick of you.

If I already have exceeded that point, my sincere apologies, even though it’s been only five days since the new book (called “The Time Keeper”) came out. But before I thankfully fall off the publicity wagon, I do want to say why I chose the theme of this novel.

Because, books aside, I believe this is a preeminent issue of our lives.

Everyone wants more time.

Few of us appreciate it.

Think about your average day. It likely begins with an alarm clock. Then the radio tells you the time. You slip on your watch. You turn on your cell phone. The morning TV has the time on the screen. Your car dashboard has a clock. You arrive at work either early or late.

And then the hour-counting begins.

Winding up the clock …

No one has enough time. Everyone wants to be more efficient. Time flies. Time’s a wasting. Twitter and Facebook are like espresso beans to our communication. Don’t waste time. Time fades away.

Yet for all our increased efficiency, no one is satisfied, and everyone keeps trying to live longer (presumably so that they can text more). We chase time; we never catch it.

I have certainly lived this way. I now regret much of it. I am trying, in my middle years, to undo the pattern. When you lose loved ones, when your family members grow sick and feeble, you can’t help but wonder what you are doing with your time. And why we spend so many days counting the hours instead of making the hours count.

In my book research, I tried to learn when “telling time” actually began. Most feel it was somewhere between 3000 and 4000 BC. No one person gets credit for being the first – the way Thomas Edison gets the light bulb or Guglielmo Marconi gets the wireless.

But somebody did it. Somebody started counting the years. And once we started counting them, we started counting them down.

And everything changed.

The moral of the story …

In “The Time Keeper,” I imagined the first person to ever measure time, a young, curious boy who puts a stick in the sand and marks its shadow in the sun. He becomes the mythical Father Time, and is banished to a cave as penance for his creation. When he returns to Earth, in our time, he must convince a man who wants to freeze himself to avoid death that this is not the way life is supposed to unfold.

“There is a reason God limits our days,” he explains.

What is the reason?

“To make each one precious.”

And this point often escapes us. We want to live forever, but if we did, nothing would matter. We’d never have to decide between things. It’s the limit to our days that forces us to chose how we will spend the hours – and often determines a good life from a sad one.

I learned this past week about the drowning death of a friend’s child. The boy was not yet 3 years old. It was unspeakably horrible.

And yet the emotion that child has evoked – the sympathy, the love, the renewed dedication to family – prove that his brief time was not wasted.

I also spoke this past week to a retiring auto dealer named Howard Cooper, who decided, after 47 successful years in business in Ann Arbor, to reward his employees with $1,000 for every year they worked. With 89 employees, some who had been there decades, you can imagine the bill. Yet for all of them, time paid off handsomely. And Cooper, 83, showed true appreciation for his abundant years.

There’s an old expression, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.” As the ink formally dries on a new book, I’m hoping it leads its writer to do less of the planning and more of the living.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. He will sign copies of “The Time Keeper” (Hyperion, $24.99, 224 pages) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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