Simple Life

For the Time Being

To count the hours . . . or make them count

By Jim Dodson

My office over the garage, which I fondly call the “Tree House,” is a place where time stands still, in a manner of speaking, something of a museum for dusty artifacts and funky souvenirs that followed me home from six decades of traveling journalism. Among them is a collection of wristwatches that accompanied me most of the way.  They’re part of what I call Uncle Jimmy Bob’s Museum of Genuine & Truly Unremarkable Stuff.

Most unremarkably (if you know me), many of the watches are broken or simply worn out from the misfortune of being attached to my person. Suffice it to say, I have a history of being tough on timepieces, having cracked more watch crystals than I can count, and either lost or damaged half a dozen of these loyal beauties by various means.

I suspect that a good shrink could have a field day with the fact that all these defunct watches are the same model and brand — the famous Timex Expedition models, an outdoors icon known for its durability and rustic beauty.

You can blame black-and-white television for this unholy devotion.

See, when I was a little kid and the TV world was not yet in living color — I was a highly impressionable son of a successful advertising executive, it should be noted — my favorite commercial was a spot for Timex watches in which suave company pitchman John Cameron Swayze subjected Timex watches to a series of live  “torture tests” in order to prove that the durable timepiece could “take a licking and keep on ticking.”

To this day I remember watching slugger Mickey Mantle wearing his Timex during batting practice. Other favorites included watches freed from solid blocks of ice by a wielded hammer, also dropped to the bottom of fish tanks for hours or put through the washing machine cycle, even attached to the bow of a roaring speedboat!

In fifth grade, I actually wrote a research paper on Timex watches, learning that the company started in 1854 in Waterbury, Connecticut, producing an affordable six-dollar clock using an assembly line process that may have inspired Henry Ford to do the same with cars half a century later. The company made its name by selling durable pocket watches for one dollar. Even Mark Twain carried one. During the Great Depression, they also introduced the first Mickey Mouse watch.

I received my first Timex watch for Christmas in 1966 and wore it faithfully everywhere — to bed, to baseball practice, even to Scout Camp where I took it off to do the mile swim and never saw it again, the start of a tradition. 

The next one I owned was an Expedition model purchased for about 25 bucks with lawn-mowing money. I wore that sucker all the way through high school, occasionally losing and finding it in unexpected places while putting it through the kind of personal abuse that would have made me a natural for Timex TV spots.

For high school graduation, my folks gave me an elegant Seiko watch, a sleek Japanese quartz model that never needed winding and kept perfect time but never felt right on my wrist. 

I have no idea what happened to that lovely timepiece. Or at least I ain’t telling.

By the end of college, I was safely back to Timex Expeditions, the cheap and durable watch that would accompany me  — one lost or broken model at a time — across the next four decades.

I mention this because a month or so ago, during a particularly busy stretch, I misplaced my longest-running Expedition and, feeling it might be the end of time or at least civilization as we know it, impetuously ordered a replacement model from the internet with guaranteed 24-hour delivery  . . . only to discover, the very day the new watch arrived, that the missing watch was under my car seat all along, keeping perfect time.

God only knows how it got there.

But the message wasn’t lost on me.

Why do I need anything delivered within 24 hours?  Instead, perhaps it’s time to slow down and pay attention to what is already happening here and now, to pause and take notice of the simple things that give my life its greatest purpose and meaning. 

The start of a new year is a time when many of us pause to take stock of how far we’ve come this year and may be headed in the year to come.  After a certain age, the question of how to make use of whatever time we have left to do the things we still hope — or need — to do is also on our minds.

Yet in modern America, “where time is money,” most of us live by the silent tyranny of the ticking clock, obsessed with achieving deadlines and keeping schedules. With no time to waste, we put everything on the clock or at least mark it down in the Day-Timer, making helpful “To-Do” lists and dinner reservations, planning holidays a year in advance, booking flights to warmer seas, appointments with the decorator or therapist, paying the mortgage on time, picking up the kids at 3 —all of it shaped by, and subject to, the hopeless idea of saving time.

Someone, my late Grandmother Taylor liked to say, is always waiting beneath the clock for a child to be born, a life to pass on, a decision to be made or a verdict to be rendered. A proper Southern Baptist lady who knew the Scriptures cold but enjoyed her evening toddy, she often told me, “Child, for the time being, you’re on God’s time. This is heaven.”

A nice thought, but just to complicate matters on the planetary scale, there’s the shadow of the infamous Doomsday Clock to contend with, the symbolic timepiece created by the world’s concerned scientists that chillingly charts the steady devolvement of the planet’s environmental and nuclear climates. In 2019, the minute hand was moved forward to two minutes to midnight.

So what happens next?

Presumably, God only knows that, too.

When it comes to contemplating the passing of time, I often think about the month “out of time” my wife and young son and I spent following our noses through rural Italy and the Greek Islands with no firm travel agenda or even hotel reservations. We met an extraordinary range of unforgettable characters and ate like gypsy kings. We swam in ancient seas, probed temple ruins and disappeared into another time, discovering a race of people who happily ignore the clock if it involves the chance for an interesting conversation about life, food or family. For the time being, it really was heaven. Somewhere along the way, I managed to lose yet another Expedition watch — but failed to notice for several days.

To us, a siesta between noon and 3 p.m. would be unthinkable in the heart of an ordinary work day, generally viewed as either a costly indulgence or colossal waste of time. Yet in Italy, Spain and many Arab cultures, the idea of pausing to take rest and recharge batteries in the midst of a busy day is viewed as a sensible restorative act, a way to slow down and keep perspective in a world forever speeding up.   

From the mystical East, my Buddhist friends perceive time as an endless cycle of beginning and ending, life and death and rebirth, time that is fluid and forever moving toward some greater articulation of what it means to be human. Native American spirituality embraces a similar idea of the sacred hoop of life, a cycle of rebirth that prompted Chief Seattle to remark that we humans struggle with life not because we’re human beings trying to be spiritual, but the other way around. A version of this quote is also attributed to French Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, proving great souls think alike, even in different languages.

How ironic, in any case, that a booming West Coast city that is home to time-saving megaliths of commerce like Amazon, Starbucks, Costco and Microsoft is named for a man who lovingly presaged, decades ahead of his time, that we humans essentially belong to the Earth and not the other way around, and that, in time, when the last tree falls and final river is poisoned, we will finally learn that we cannot eat money or replace whatever is forever lost in time.

Fearing his own time brief on this planet, Transcendentalist Henry Thoreau went to live by Walden Pond “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I hold a similar desire close to my own aging heart, though in the short-term I sure would like to finish a trio of half-written novels I’ve been cobbling on for years, write a few more books about subjects that greatly interest me, and maybe — if there’s any time leftover — build a cabin in the Blue Ridge like the one my late papa and I always talked about “someday” building together.

For the record, just for fun, I’d also like to learn to speak Italian, play the piano and spend a full summer exploring the fjords and forests of Scandinavia with my wife. 

So much to do. So little time to do it.

That seems to be our fate. At least mine.

On golden autumn afternoons and quiet winter days, however, I swear I can almost hear Chief Seattle, Father De Chardin and Grandma Taylor whispering to me that we are all living on God’s Time, wise to wake up and slow down and live fully in the now as we journey into a brave new decade, hopefully appreciating the many gifts of time and its precious brevity. 

For the time being, I now have two fine Expedition watches that can take a licking and keep on ticking.

Though how long I can do the same, goodness me, only time will tell.  PS

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at jim@thepilot.com.

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