Praying for perspective: Does anybody really know what time it is?

As we clock our live, the years run too short and the day too fast

By George Valadie

If you ever find yourself worrying about the sanity of your family, or, more specifically, the people in it, then read on and have hope. Every single word of this is true.

We were headed to an evening dinner with what we hoped would be some new friends when Nancy moaned, “Oh, great!”

And let me say right here, you just know it’s never great when your wife says it’s great. Oh, she says it is, but it isn’t. A tone of voice conveys a lot, and this was one of those disgusted, impatient “oh, greats!” that seemed like things weren’t really going to turn out that way at all.

“Just look at that clock, we’re running behind.”

The clock to which she referred was the one on my dashboard.

To which I replied, “Oh, you can relax, we’re OK, it’s 12 minutes fast.”

And it was. Exactly 12 minutes. Because I set it that way and I kept it that way.

When she looked at me funny (a look with which I have become familiar), I fired one back across her bow, “Yeah, like the clock in your car is exactly right?”

I caught her. And she was forced to admit, “No, mine’s four minutes fast.”

“On purpose?”

“Yeah, I make sure.”

Then we had a good laugh because we both knew that, in addition to our auto insanity, our one bedside alarm clock was set exactly 13 minutes ahead of what we believed to be the right time.

We were meticulous about keeping it just that way, though neither of us can remember why.

The creation of our own “Valadie Standard Time” causes us to go through all sorts of mental math whenever the other one asks, “What time is it?” And since neither of us is a “morning person,” the sort of mental math required to decipher reality just isn’t all that easy to perform when you’re digging out from under a dead-to-the-world sleep.

Any chance your house is like this?

And that’s not nearly the extent of our craziness.

Three clocks reside in the kitchen alone — one each on the microwave, the oven, and our under-the-counter radio, and not one of them displayed the same time, much less the correct time.

But, for some unexplained reason, we’ve never seemed to care about any of those in the least.

Our DVD player revealed yet another time. Most days, it showed a blinking “12:00.” On those rare days when it’s not eternally noon or midnight, the time it does display comes directly from and compliments of our local cable company.

I’m not saying their time isn’t accurate or trustworthy, but I try to never forget that it’s coming from the same folks who need a four-hour window to come work at our house — and they usually miss that.

Want more? We both own watches, but never wear them.

These days, I rely on my cell phone when I need to know the time. As best I can tell, the information arrives there by magic.

I bought it two blocks from our house, where they turn the magic on while I’m in the store. From there, it travels invisibly to a satellite somewhere hundreds of miles above the earth and then back down to the gizmo in my pocket. And it follows me (when I can keep track of where I put it).

True, this is the same technology that causes them to drop our calls, lose our messages, and seldom get the billing right, but they do seem to have figured out the whole time-of-day thing — even when I’m in another time zone — so they get my vote as the most accurate of all the timekeepers.

And it’s not just a generational thing.

Sarah, our youngest and the most technologically astute of our daughters, has a really nice watch that sat on our bathroom vanity next to my toothbrush.

It was ninety-three days and counting when it stopped.

She never asked; I never offered.

To wake herself up each morning, she prefers to use the alarm function of her cell phone, though — and I swear this is true — she prefers to keep it on silent.

She says she can hear it vibrating on its overnight perch — which happens to be the top of her electric alarm clock — which she never sets, but does plug in.

To Sarah, that makes sense. To me, it explains a lot.

I’m not sure if there’s any deep meaning to any of this. It could be some undiagnosed mental illness. Or perhaps we’re all trying to manipulate the one thing we can’t ever change.

I began to think about it. Minutes here, minutes there … keeping track sometimes, losing track a lot of the time.

But always wishing we had more.

At the school where I work, we have had our share of sadness. I imagine we’re not at all unlike where you work. No one is immune.

Spouses are lost to an illness that wouldn’t let go, others among us lost elderly parents or grandparents. And some who weren’t really all that elderly.

Luckily, we didn’t lose any students, but several of them have been forced to live through death. Two lost a parent, one mom and one dad who left their families long before it seemed like they should have been out of their allotted minutes.

And who among them wouldn’t give everything they have — all of it — for just a few more minutes of any kind?

And thus, we control it — or we try to — whenever we can.

I know the summer doesn’t really add minutes to our day, but it always feels like it, doesn’t it?

Maybe it’s that we let the kids stay up later, or that we get to spend more leisurely time around the kitchen table. There’s all that time at the ballfields. Or perhaps it’s the seemingly endless hours we spend traveling on vacation, or teaching the newest teenage driver how to drive (I didn’t say all the extra minutes were fun ones).

But we should try to make them that way. After all, when the one important clock stops ticking, we and the minutes we spend with them will be someone’s memories.

Dear God, we all get different amounts, and none of us can understand why. Down here, where we are, time seems like your greatest gift and your greatest mystery. Thank you for both. Amen.

George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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