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Column: Passing Thoughts On Passing Time

Heights Columnist

Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

There is nothing you can be more certain about in life than the passage of time. While it is constantly flowing, like an undercurrent to our lives, we rarely stop to give it much thought. We are just too busy with all those things that take up our time—schoolwork, jobs, activities, or just hanging out with friends—to notice it.

    Saturday evening, I decided to go see These Shining Lives, a play whose plot is based on the passage of time and the death of the main character. Although I knew that it was not the lightest of topic matters, I did not expect that I would be thinking philosophically about time when I left the theater.

    Set in the 1920s, the play chronicles the lives of watch painters in the Radium Dial factory. They are all young girls who are excited to be working women earning their own money. Over the course of their years of work, the women develop a close friendship and support each other, even as the country descended from the high of the Roaring ’20s to the lows of the Depression.

    Over the course of those years, however, they also received radium poisoning from the radium powder used in the paint for the numbers on the watch faces. As they come to terms with their certain death, they think back on their time working for “The Man” and what it took out of them. Catherine, the protagonist and ringleader, is struck by the irony of the situation. After spending all of her time making timepieces, she felt like the deposed King Richard did at the end of Shakespeare’s Richard II, when he said, “I have wasted time; and now doth time waste me.”
    While I am certainly not at the end of my life like Catherine or Richard, I still wonder about my time here in college. I know that it is a limited commodity and I know that I don’t want to waste it, but I don’t know what that really means. What is a waste of time?
    Although there are a lot of things that I could suggest are a waste of time right off the bat (Facebook, anybody?), I think the real answer to that question is based on the answer to another question: Why are we here?
    I think that the commonly accepted response to that question is: to get a good education, so that we can get a good job when we graduate. There are still some (myself included) that subscribe to the ancient philosophy for education—that we are here so that we might become human beings, knowledgeable about the world, able to think, and capable of participating in a democratic society.

While both of these answer the question of why we are here, they also focus solely on the academic aspect of being in college, which consumes only a fraction of the time we are here. While we may all study different things, we all spend the academic portion of our lives fairly similarly. It is what we do with the rest of our time that often defines us here.

What I have come to realize is that the “what” matters very little. It is the “how” that makes all the difference. It is a question of how we do what we do. Am I immersed in the experience here? When I do something worthwhile, do I give it my all? Do I devote the time and energy to make my friendships all that they can be?
Catherine felt like she wasted her precious time with her children because she didn’t value the passage of time enough to realize that she could lose her opportunity. Richard felt like he wasted his time as king because he didn’t really act like a king. I have neither children nor a kingdom, but I love what I do have here. I just don’t want to wake up one day to find that time has wasted me too.


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