May your holiday season be joyous and bright
Around the time when many countries shifted the clocks back one hour this fall, there were copious articles and news stories decrying what this twice-yearly time change does to our bodies, how it disrupts our sleep patterns, is bad for kids in school, decreases productivity, and is generally thought by many to be the downfall of human civilization. As my son mentioned that the threats and taunts to do away with daylight savings time all together had surfaced in the news yet again, I could be heard screaming through the house, “Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!! I NEED my long June days! Their promise to return is the only thing that allows me to survive the short days of December. I will not let anyone take those away!!!”
…As if I could control time…or governments.
What is it about those long June days? Why are they my favorite, most cherished time of year? Ok, yes, in part because smack in the middle there is birthday cake and presents, sure, but that all too brief yearly period of long days takes me back to the solitary, reflective times of my childhood. They are encapsulated in moments that stand out from the rest of my memories as safe and calm, but most of all fun: being able to stay in my playhouse-turned-art-studio longer, watching the evening’s rays of sun shine through my godmother Bobbie’s sliding glass doors and turn the den into an other-worldly space with the soundtrack of her cooking in the background, sitting under a pecan tree listening to CBS Radio Mystery Theater while trying to draw birds with my Caran d’Ache set of markers, flying through the air in the swing in the huge oak tree at my grandparent’s house and breathing deeply the sweet smell of the gardenia at the tree’s trunk each time I passed through the middle of the arc. These moments all came at twilight when twilight here doesn’t happen in June until at least 8:45 PM, and they were always illuminated by beloved lightning bugs, those magical creatures that my son at age 2 appropriately renamed “bugning lights.” They were ritual moments that shaped who I am, and their memories still act as midwife to my most creative moments in the studio.
As I glanced at then ignored headline after headline about the evils of time changes in the news and blogosphere, it hit me that the time change isn’t the problem at all. The reason it derails us so is that we live, down to the minute, by clocks in the increasingly urgent push to do, be, meet, make, and live more. The reason these moments were so cherished is because they felt, paradoxically, timeless like they might go on forever as they gently faded into full on night with its promise to repeat the process agin the next day. I lived, if only in summer, by the sun and the moon. Clocks were merely a device used by adults to boss people around.
Time is a funny thing. “Funny strange-like, not funny haha,” as Bobbie used to say. Clocks may move consistently but our experience of the time they mark is anything but a consistent feeling. Most of us have experienced the weird warping of time since the Pandemic began. My favorite description remains what my friend Mary-Alice referred to in last year’s holiday letter: “The decade that happened between March and December, 2020.”
Einstein’s discovery of space-time still holds up to the tests of science as part of the universe’s reality, but time by clocks is most certainly a purely fabricted, human construct. What happened that caused time’s extra weirdness since March, 2020 had nothing to do with space-time or viruses. It was our unmooring of what clocks meant: no leaving for school or work on time, no numerically bound rituals of showers and meals, no anticipated meeting up with friends and colleagues. We were suddenly free to live by the sun and moon, and in a world where we wondered if we’d survive, we had absolutely no idea how.
If you’ve ever lived with dogs, you may have experienced the utterly weird phenomenon that they know what time it is and when things are supposed to happen. Our Shelties may have a tough time adjusting to the idea that their 7:30 PM dinner time is no longer just after sunset when Daylight Savings Time ends, but within a week, they’ve adjusted, sometimes better than their humans. The begging commences at precisely 7:11 PM when Lizzie finds me and begins the most pitiful whimpering sound ever in the history of canines if she does not see one of us already preparing their evening meal.
Our Sheltie Lilah could literally tell time or at least read it digitally off the old oven clock. I’ll typically push human dinner as late as I can to gain more time in the studio, but one day when my husband had made chili in the slow cooker, I was suddenly starving around 6:30 and grabbed a bowl of it. Just as I’d settled on the sofa with said chili and a book, Lilah plopped herself in front of me with her extra pleadingly sincere face on. – Her dinner time was earlier than the dogs who herd us now because we hadn’t learned yet.
“Sorry, yes, I know. I should have fed you first. I’m genuinely sorry, but I’m absolutely ravenous. Could you please just give me until 6:55, and then I promise, I’ll get up and feed you without further delay,” I pleaded. Some small voice of sanity in my head wondered why I talked to my dog this way. Lilah just sighed and slunk away. A little while later she was back at my feet poking me with her snout. Ready to tell her it wasn’t time yet, I looked at my phone. 6:54. “OK, close enough, and thanks,” I told her. As we walked into the kitchen, I saw the oven clock read 6:55. I glanced back down at my phone, which still read 6:54. I looked at Lilah who stared sincerely up at me then gave me a dog smile. As my college philosophy professor said when lecturing on prima facia knowledge, “Ever notice how dogs just know things?!?” I suppose if we live by clocks then dogs, that species so evolutionarily attuned to us, simply adapt.
As we embark on the completely human fabrication of this particularl demarcation of another trip around the sun, let’s do more than pause, reflect, and set hopelessly impossible end of year goals or New Year’s resolutions. Let’s remove a few things from our to-do lists and belligerently ignore the clock for a bit. Let’s be weird and radical; let’s be gentle with ourselves. It’s the best way to ensure we’ll see those lightning bugs in another half trip around that sun.