Time for nothing

Gluten free bread, for those of you who have not experienced it, tends to be dry and crumbly. It can be lovely fresh from the oven, but the loveliness rarely lasts for even 24 hours. After that it is only good for toast. Fortunately a bakery near us does wonderful gluten free bread that is almost as good as real bread, but for some reason they always slice it very thinly, so that when toasted it becomes excessively crunchy and dry. Periodically I order a few loaves unsliced and stash them in our freezer, so that I can slice it myself and make it thick enough for a really tasty wodge of toast. (Thank you, computer, but “wodge” is too a word, so nyer.)

Yesterday as I was slicing off my morning toast it occurred to me that pre-sliced bread is something of a mixed blessing. A really thick wodge of toast is a very lovely thing that most of us never see any more, as we sacrifice this small luxury for the convenience of being able to shove a thin spongy thing into the toaster as we fly through the morning routine, getting ready to rush out the door. Slicing my own bread takes, maybe, 30 seconds, yet before I went gluten free I almost never bothered to buy unsliced bread. Which is a shame, because a thick wodge of toast is the best thing since sliced bread.

There are a lot of devices in our lives designed to save us time. Our houses overflow with the things. Dish washers, washing machines, dryers, power mowers, microwaves, food processors, computers, and even cars – each new model guaranteed to be faster, more powerful and, importantly, shinier than the last.

Yet so many of the devices come with a cost. We speed down the road in our cars so that we can squeeze in a trip to the gym to regain the fitness we have lost by driving everywhere. Our power mowers wreck our ears, our lungs and the environment, and ultimately save us very little time, since hand mowers these days are remarkably fast and effective. Ours must be at least 15 years old now, and it still does our lawn fast, quietly, and above all safely. (Although I did fall backwards onto our old one once, obtaining the worst bruising of my life on my lower back and buttocks in an act of clumsiness that will not surprise regular readers. On the bright side nothing was severed, as it undoubtedly would have been had I fallen onto some kind of power mower.)

It is a mystery to me where all this saved time has gone. For all our houses full of time saving devices, we are busier than ever before. Too busy for friends, too busy for family, too busy to stop and chat, too busy for mindful contemplation of our lives. Too busy, it seems, even to breathe deeply and admire the sunset. We ruefully acknowledge the downsides of our busy-ness – “I’m a bad friend. I just haven’t had time to call her.” “I worry I’m not spending enough time with the kids.” “I never get to spend time with my husband.” “Life’s just too busy.”

And you’re rushing headlong
you’ve got a new goal
and you’re rushing headlong
out of control
and you think you’re so strong
but there ain’t no stopping and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Queen, Headlong.

Over the last week I have been on crutches – physically prevented from rushing anywhere. I have been forced to slow down, and in chafing against it I have discovered how much of a habit hurtling has become. I think maybe it is a kind of drug. We seem to feel that time spent doing nothing is time wasted.  And in the process we have forgotten how to breathe.

Maybe it’s time to to spend some of that time we’re saving.


2 thoughts on “Time for nothing

  1. So true – you have all but rephrased the title of Proust’s novel: In Search of Saved Time!
    There is a great children’s book from the 70s called Momo, by Michael Ende (of Neverending Story fame) which deals with time and the “little grey men” who come and convince people to “save” it, whereby of course, they lose it.

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