Friday, November 13, 2015

Befriending time

Much of the work I do here is emotionally tough. Distributing food, water, and clothes to refugees with frostbitten feet can be overwhelming. Coupled with workshops that I organize for Romani children who run up against discrimination and distrust on a daily basis, I find myself drained by the enormity of these situations involving oppressed migrant groups.

To combat this emotional taxation, I walk, write, run, read, meditate, people-watch, and generally try to connect with nature and mankind. I detach myself from technology and let myself drift through an hour or two unanchored. In these moments, I am autonomous and I cut to the quick of my self. In these moments, there is no white noise between my thoughts, actions, and feelings. In these moments, I am refreshed and ready to bring my all to the next day's slender brush with great injustice.

Perhaps so far, this sounds derivative of the post I wrote on being alone but not lonely. It's certainly related, but I've investigated this further and realized that at its core is a new relationship with time. An appreciative friendship emboldened by Balkan time.

Time is malleable in Serbia. To adapt to it, you must enter a sort of Dali state of mind. A friend might say she'll meet you at 4pm and then at 4:15pm might cancel or postpone. A store claims to open at 8:30am yet the owner is surprised when at 9am a customer eagerly waits to enter. If someone asks if you to go for coffee, the question is refers to going to a cafe right this very minute. If you suggest meeting at 10am next Tuesday, he will respond quizzically. He meant now, and doesn't think one should have to plan a social interaction days in advanced.

During Bridge Year, we were told to do our best to adapt to the "polako" mentality of the Balkans. Polako encapsulates flexibility, relaxation, and a sort of "hakuna matata"/no worries attitude. Another phrase on which I reflected at the end of Bridge Year is "ima vremena" meaning "there is time" or "you have time." I've recently heard "sve ćeš da stiće," or everything you want will arrive.

These positive phrases promote a looser, freer relationship with time, the somewhat artificial structure we've imposed on life. In some sense we are time's creators in that we made it our master by inventing the clock and living by deadlines. And this servant-master relationship is evidenced in how we speak about time. The first English phrases that came to mind were "wasting time," "killing time," and "racing against the clock," all of which combatively peg time as some sort of enemy.

However, as we all know, time is plastic; it can feel rich and swollen one moment, weak and unfulfilling another. Some of our deepest joys happen when the moment meets the eternal and we lose ourselves in time -- in art, in love, in meditation; we don't think about that ticking secondhand but instead we fall into something transcendent.

Applying these reflections to my life, I've made an effort to find time each day to stop and reflect, be it through a long, aimless walk, watching the sun rise and set, or sitting on a bench and observing passers-by. When time is deeply felt, when it's rich and swollen, I am able to move past the guilt, the sorrow, and the despondency that my work with the refugees and Romani tends to impart.

By being aware of time's inevitable passing and knowingly creating space to let myself get lost in time, I've begun to befriend time, once a tool I fought to manage. Naturally I still keep a schedule which provides a useful structure to my life here, but noticing moments of being blissfully unaware of time reasserts my sense of agency outside of time's contrived reality, which both levels and deepens this friendship.

For further reading on time: there's a whimsical book on how time can be found everywhere in nature called "A Sideways Look at Time." In it, Jay Griffiths examines imaginative ways of once used to measure time such as a spice clock which dispenses a spice every hour, so that in the middle of the night you might taste cinnamon and think, "Ah, well, I guess I have three hours until I need to wake up." Or the flower clock where you plant in your garden flowers that bloom for an hour or two at a set time during the day, so as you wander through the flowers you can tell the hour by the blooming morning glory.

P.S. Srećan rodjendan (happy birthday) to one of this blog's only regular followers, my dad! Sending love from half a world away.

1 comment:

  1. Katherine,

    This is a very philosophical, introspective post! I like it. And, intentionally or not, your birthday wish to your dad fits right in, for birthdays are the ultimate marker of time's passage.

    It's sort of spooky how good of a writer you are.

    James in NY