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  • Nikita Agrawal

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

It's never too late or too soon. It's when it's supposed to be.

woman holding a book, next to a coffee mug

The Time Keeper, as the name suggests, is a tale about the first man on Earth to measure or "keep" time. He is later revealed to be Father Time himself, who is widely known as a personification of time. The story starts in biblical times during the construction of the Tower of Babel, and the main character (Dor) is intently busy discovering time by observing cyclical patterns in the universe. His infatuation grows and eventually he wishes he had the power to control time. It's a short-read, quite accurately depicting our relationship with time, and more importantly, urging readers to reflect on their own personal notions of time.

Reading this book made me think about the following things:

1. We can't imagine a world without timekeeping

One of the first things that we learn while growing up is how to tell time. We learn about the different units of time, how to read analog and digital clocks, and even about different time-zones. It's the framework we use to make sense of how the world goes round. "Time" is also one of the most commonly used words in every language, with "What time is it?" being one of the most frequently asked questions. Time dictates a lot of what we do (and our speech), because it's the parameter we use to measure our lives.

We can't imagine a world without it, yet the word "time keeper" itself is ironic. Because time isn't something that can actually be kept. It's intangible, it passes us continuously, and is being spent before we can even attempt to hold on to it. Checking the time might help us organize when we act, but it doesn't change anything about how we act, how much we feel, and are fully present in that moment. When each day is planned down to the second, it's hard to let go of that structure and remind ourselves that the reason it's like that in the first place is to make the most of the time that we have. (How can we live practically in this worldly world and still be present in each and every moment as though time doesn't exist?)

"There are as many expressions with time, as there are minutes in a day. But once, there was no word for it at all. Because no one was counting."

2. Time is a construct

The difference between when we do something and how we do something can change our very perception of time. There goes a saying that how long a minute is depends on which side of the bathroom door you're on. And, this is true for so much. Aren't there times when time seemed to have passed slower (or faster) than our preconceived expectation of it, because of what we were doing or how we felt during that period? There is a world of a difference between the quantity and quality of time we spend. Which, quite subtly, bends the rules of time as we know it.

When we get lost in what we are doing and forget to check the time, we usually have this sudden urge to find out. But, if all the clocks in the world stopped working, it wouldn't actually change what happened or what will happen. Life continues even when we don't count it. Nature still goes on without knowing. The idea of time (and its every minute detail) is only consumed by humans. All around us, plants and animals do not fret over a schedule or a particular time. To think that a lot of what we (humans) worry about isn't even fundamentally real.

"Man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out."

3. Time is a gift

So much talk about time and we don't even know what it truly is. Either way, what's the point? We're all going to go on measuring time like we always do and use it in our lives like we are supposed to? As the story progresses in The Time Keeper, Dor has to help two individuals: an old man who wants more time than he's been given, and a young girl who wants her time to end before it's her turn. Either way, their focus was not in the now. They were not in the present, and fretting too much about their past or the future. Sometimes difficult circumstances or the sheer gravity of a situation compel us to think there is no way out, and we want to be in a time other than we are in right now. But, we always have a way out. We have a choice to live and simply be in the present moment that we are given because:

"It's never too late or too soon. It's when it's supposed to be."

This very moment (as moments pass) has never occurred before and won't occur again in all of eternity, this realization is powerful and creates a deeper appreciation for the time that we have. The dictionary definition of time is "the indefinite progress of existence and events in the past, present and future regarded as a whole". For something that has lasted for as long as we know and is supposedly going to continue indefinitely, for us to even get that small pocket of time to be a part of something is actually an incredible thing. In our day-to-day it becomes easy to forget, but it's good to make an effort and remind ourselves to be grateful always.

Be in the 'now' so intensely that you forget about time itself. What is it that makes you forget to look at the time?

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