March 30, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)


If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And -which is more- you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

My wife and I were at an after-theater dinner in Fort Bragg. The band was playing many of the tunes of my youth. I remarked to a young woman that I did a mean lindy hop and that I thought that it was a sign of my misspent youth. She replied, "That's what youth is for; to be misspent." I think that she might have been right.

I would give anything to retrieve the hours that I have squandered. But that's impossible, because once time is spent, like money, it is gone forever. George Bernard Shaw said, " Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children."

As far as I am concerned now, the most precious commodity in existence for any living organism is time. You have just so much of it in your lifetime. You can't buy any more even if you are the richest man in the world. It seems a shame to squander any of it. Yet we all, without exception, do squander time, and we squander most of what we have allotted to us. That is because we don't know any better. Not only do many people squander what time they have, but they sometimes throw all of it away through some foolishness that they don't realize is foolishness at the time.

What I am saying may sound like a plea for people to accomplish more. That is not what I mean at all. I do not consider time spent watching a beautiful sunset, or the stars, or a cat at play to be time wasted. In fact, I consider any pleasurable activity that does not shorten your life to be time well spent.

Nor could we possibly know any better. The inescapable fact is that when we are born we know how to be hungry, to cry, to sleep, to suck, to eliminate, and all of the wonderful things that we usually take for granted. What we eventually end up knowing can only be acquired over a period of time. And there is never enough time, nor could there ever be enough.

There is a short story about a group of men who were discussing this and speculating about what they would do if they had it all to do over again. The author, whose name I have forgotten, has one man say that if anyone had his life to live over again, that he would make the same mistakes. No, says another, if he knew what he knows now he could avoid the mistakes. By some magic, one man is allowed to live part of his life over again knowing what he knew and, sure enough, he makes the same mistakes. I think that the author is wrong, but it doesn't make any difference since it is impossible to live one's life over again.

One of my sons once asked me if "this is all that there is to life?" I suspect that my answer was "Yes." Perhaps, like all other living things, our purpose on earth is to exist and to reproduce our kind. In the case of all mammals and most birds, there is also the purpose of caring for their young. Perhaps all of our high ideals and purpose is merely the illusion of people; most of whom believe that they are the next best thing to God, or that they are gods themselves.
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