‘It’s called a Time-Turner,’ Hermione whispered, ‘and I got it from Professor McGonagall on our first day back. I’ve been using it all year to get to all my lessons. Professor McGonagall made me swear I wouldn’t tell anyone. She had to write all sorts of letters to the Ministry of Magic so I could have one. She had to tell them that I was a model student, and that I’d never, ever use it for anything except my studies….I’ve been turning it back so I could do hours over again, that’s how I’ve been doing several lessons at once, see?’
— JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Today I want a Time-Turner.
I want to take my son Jim to his meeting with Jennifer. Jennifer is a counselor with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, and the plan she and Jim put together today will lead directly to employment for the boy.
It has been a long and rocky road for Jim, this pathway to a job, but after stops and starts, derailments and disappointments, he has arrived at a place where it all seems possible. At 11 AM today, he’ll sign the paperwork that makes the next step real. Stepping off into the future, my boy is, with a backpack full of hope, and a pocket cram-packed with worry.
Of course I will be there with him at the meeting, to help him remember to ask the questions he needs to have answered, help him to answer the questions that Jennifer has–to be the support that he needs as he embarks on a very important course.
But I want, too, to have coffee with Kim at the very same time. Last week we met at Sips, the warm, funky, coffee shop in my old home town. Kim lives there in her welcoming first floor apartment, just a block or two from the church where we cooked and served many a hot meal together. The outing last Monday was too much for her, though; she accepted a ride afterwards, a very un-Kim-like thing to do. Cancer has not dulled her fierce independence.
Today, I think, I might have stopped to pick up the coffee and muffins and I might have taken them to Kim’s. Maybe we would have sat in the bower Larry laced with morning glory plants, watching Kim’s aged cat, Maximus, scratch his back on the rough sidewalk. Maybe she wouldn’t have felt like being outside, and we would have sipped the coffee indoors, where she could rest on her couch, nibble on a muffin, and we could talk about things that matter, about joy and books and memories, peace and equity and friends.
And about time, that slippery substance.
‘What are you doing here?’ growled the watchdog.
‘Just killing time,’ replied Milo apologetically. ‘You see—‘
‘KILLING TIME!’ roared the dog—so furiously that his alarm went off. ‘It’s bad enough wasting time without killing it.’
—Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
I had a wonderful boss, back in the ’90’s, back in the town where I grew up. We were working in the Learning Center of a SUNY school; the Center umbrella-ed a whole lot of programs. I directed one that supported students at academic risk. The Center also worked with international students and students with a wide range of disabilities, and students who just needed some support to get through classes they found challenging. We trained peer tutors and we offered professional development and, in the nooks and the crannies, we all advised students, mostly those students with no major declared. We nudged and shoved and gently maneuvered them toward the self-knowledge needed to choose a path.
We hoped we did that, anyway. (I think we often did.)
My boss had an advisee who was a student in my program, and one day we were tag-teaming him, trying to get him to commit to something, or repeat a necessary math course, or tackle a task that needed to be conquered before the next step could be taken–I can’t remember what the urgent thing was we needed to get the boy to embrace. But the student was not at a point to listen.
“Look,” he said to my boss, “I just don’t have the time.”
I watched the angry blush creep up my boss’s face; he politely but rapidly ushered the student out of his office.
And then–“Doesn’t have time!” he exploded. “Doesn’t have TIME!”
He slapped the top of his desk and glared at me.
“Time is ALL we have.” He jabbed a finger for emphasis. “And never, ever enough. Doesn’t have time…doesn’t USE the time he has, more like it!”
I think of that boss a lot, when I am tempted to plead extreme busyness as an excuse to back out of something necessary. “Time is ALL we have,” his voice jabs in my mind.
So I want to take the time to really be in the moment with Jim as he starts this new, exciting-but-scary phase, a first big step toward the ultimate goal of independence. He’s luminous with excitement at some moments; at others, he’s dredged with trepidation. He needs to know his support team is right there, cheering, ready to be called in off the bench if needed.
But I need to spend time, too, with Kim, who also believes that time is all we have, and that hers is limited. She is clear-eyed, faith-filled, brave; she is committed, she says, to dying a good death, and she believes there is more to come beyond that moment of passing. But she, too, needs her support team. I’ve left my seat on Kim’s bench empty today.
And then there’s work. And community service. Husband and grandkids and family and letters that need to be written. Books begging to be read. Floors crying out for the vacuum.
Oh, for a Time-Turner.
‘There was a drop of comfort, at least, in this intelligence. The honest man could contain himself no longer.—He caught his daughter and her child in his arms. — ‘I am your father!’ cried he—‘Young Rip Van Winkle once—Old Rip Van Winkle now!—Does nobody know Rip Van Winkle!’
All stood amazed, until an old woman, tottering out from among the crowd, put her hand to her brow, and peering under it in his face for a moment, exclaimed, ‘Sure enough! it is Rip Van Winkle—it is himself. Welcome home, old neighbor.–Why, where have you been this twenty long years?’
— “Rip Van Winkle”, Washington Irving
I sit on the commode, toweling off after a long, relaxing soak in a piping hot bath–I was reading while the steam died down off the water, soaking away the cares and tensions of the day. Soothed, I climb out, grabbing a soft white towel, enjoying its thick terrycloth comfort. And I lift a foot to rub it dry and notice that my index toe is bent–bent like a bathing beauty’s knee in a cheesy, beachy photo–bent and not planning to unbend.
I put my foot down flat on the floor and see it for what it is–the bunioned, hammer-toed, callused hoof of a sixty-year-old woman. What do they say on that commercial–Life comes at you fast? I believe it was yesterday that my mother told me I’d be sorry I was cramming my dogs into those pointy toed shoes, and warned me about mincing around on my four inch platforms. You’ll ruin your feet! she said, and I looked at her poor feet, with their overlapping toes and right angle bunions, and I thought, That will never be me.
Hah. I woke up one morning this summer, much like my old buddy Rip, and thought, My God. I am sixty years old. How–WHEN–did that happen? And when did I get my mother’s feet?
The busy flow of life pulls me along, and the bright and lively thoughts in my mind don’t age, but time’s progress is invincible, inevitable, insistent, and unceasing.
A crone, I realize, aghast–I’ve become the crone I protested against the first time I read Woman Who Run With the Wolves! Is that, I’d argued then, the only image for women of a certain age? Men become–what? distinguished?–and women become CRONES?
But you know, the crone is not so awful–the wise and wrinkled archetype who doesn’t have to worry about the size of her waist, the vibrance of her make-up, the trim and fashionable cut of her cloth. The crone can walk the dog in denim capri pants, an old, paint-stained t-shirt, and a pair of scuffed up magenta slippers, and the neighbors don’t bat an eye.
“Hey,” they say, “how are ya? Did ya see that rainbow last night?”
The crone stops to talk and they respond [she thinks] to her thoughtfulness, her powers of observation, her quick wit. They don’t expect her, at her advanced age, to wear a fashionable–or even a matching–outfit. So what if her hair’s all twitchy?
Crone-dom is maybe not so bad, after all. I embrace this funny age, with its unexpected gifts, hammer toes and all.
But I want MORE. I want lots more time–I want to be around when Jim retires from his job, not just when he starts it; I want to see granddaughters, nephews, grand-nieces, grand-nephews, graduate from college, get married, buy mini vans. I want to retire in time to start a whole new career. I want energy.
I want Kim to wake up tomorrow healthy and for her horizon to shift far, far away from where it is now.
I want time.
I want time to enjoy retirement with my husband, time to travel and time to potter around the house. I want time to finish the story I’ve started.
But, as my boss said so long ago, time is all we’ve got–and not enough of it. Kim remarked to me once that there are no guarantees. She might have, she said, a ballpark figure of the number of her days–but any one us could find ourselves in the path of an errant semi–the day could be done, our number called, long before we’ve tucked in all our ravelings.
In that other world, my sleeping world, the dead live and the infirm are healthy and I am ageless–ageless, wise, and oh, so brave. And then the alarm clock rings and I remember age and illness, discovery and loss, the soaring and the crashes.
I hope for time–time to draw all the strands to their completion, to see Jim launched into independent, joyful life, to celebrate some milestones, to throw some odd accomplishments into my memory cauldron. But–no guarantees, Kim reminds me; remember the only two things that are certain.
What is left then, but to cherish the moments, the times of sharing, the gifts of collaboration, creation, celebration, commiseration,–the hefting of the burdens, the broadcast of the joys? Despite what physicists say about the fluidity of time, I doubt that I will ever have a Time-Turner. Maybe there will never be enough time–maybe they’ll be hauling me out as I yell, like the Dead Body That Claims It Isn’t from Monty Python, “I feel happy, I feel happy!” and “I’m not dead yet!”
And maybe I need to stop worrying about it–need to inhabit, fully, deeply, and reverently, the moment that is here, that is now, and with which I am gifted. A moment of laughter with Kim, whose wit hasn’t slipped a bit since her illness encroached. A moment of triumph with Jim, whose hope for the future is boundless. A moment to sit on the couch with my crazy little dog, now deemed a ‘senior dog’ by the vet and no longer possessed of just two speeds, manic and asleep. She’s slowing down, the ol’ mutt–she enjoys, now, a good snore on the chair and a lazy snuggle in my lap.
No guarantees, says Kim, and she is right. No Time-Turners, either.
I type this in a quiet house, at the end of a long, full day–and I struggle for the mindfulness to cherish just this one, wonderful, blessed moment of time. It is, after all, all I’ve got.