I remember the moment I fell in love with my wife.
A year before I proposed, I was completing my undergrad at the University of Maryland in College Park. I’ve never stuck to the normal path of life, and my nontraditional ride through school was no different. My march through 300 credit hours and four degrees has been a patchwork of nights, weekends, and online endeavors—the summer of 2009 was no different. I was nearing the end of my enlistment in the Army when I began an accelerated regimen of “boot camp”-style four-week courses: four nights per week at four hours per night.
My then-girlfriend and I had been together for only a few months. After the first night of class she decided she would attend with me for the remaining nights. Of course, she couldn’t sit next to me in class; instead, she waited in the car. All night. Every night.
The only time she saw me was during a short ten-minute break at around 8:30 PM.
That is love, folks—and I knew it. She could have been anywhere in the world during those hours, but she wanted to be there, waiting for me so we could ride to campus together and see each other for a few minutes. Seven years later (for what it’s worth, today is our 90-month dating anniversary), I still haven’t forgotten how that made me feel.
So, of course the following summer I had to do this:
“Love” is Spelled T-I-M-E
We have precious little time in life. I tend to think about death a fair amount, or at least probably more than the average person. I’m not preoccupied with it or wearing black eyeliner or anything. Rather, I respect its power and certainty. While the clock on our lives is unknown and unstoppable, and while I believe most people who have ever lost someone appreciate the shortness of it all, our actions seldom speak to that appreciation. We freely give up an hour a day in traffic, or two hours in front of a television. We put off goals and passions indefinitely. We lose touch with friends, stay in fights with our spouses, or hold back from…you name it. We do this with the understanding that the sun will rise tomorrow. This is true, though, until it’s not.
This is a chart of a 90-year human life. Each block represents one week. This chart defines “long-term thinking.”
Thinking about putting off learning the guitar until next year? Cross out a row.
Wait to go the zoo until next week? Check off a box.
Start working out next month? Check off four boxes now, and maybe four more at the end, since your unhealthy decision just took some time off the back end.
Unless you’re Ray Kurzweil, your days are numbered.
Money can be nearly infinite. You can make a lot. Your money itself can make so much more. But, what you can possibly do with it has bounds. Extensive bounds, but bounds nonetheless.
You can acquire a nearly infinite amounts of things with your nearly infinite money.
You can provide a nearly infinite amount of advice—this is especially so when your advice can live forever on the internet or in print.
Truly, the only thing you have a finite and always dwindling amount of is time. It is our most prized asset and our most costly thing to give up. Therefore, when a girlfriend (now wife, of course) willingly gives up four hours of time sitting in a car for the limited opportunity to spend a few minutes with me, I treasure that forever. She can’t get it back. No refunds, no exchanges. I’ll love her forever for that reason alone, even though I have many others.
Tomorrow is shaping up to be a pretty crappy day. I’ll wake up around 5:30 and bike to the bus stop. I’ll take a short ride to a commuter lot where I’ll slug into the District. After 8.5 hours, I’ll slug back home and Wife29 and Toddler29 will come pick me up from the slug lot. We’ll play and eat and relax a bit before we go to bed.
This doesn’t sound so bad, so why “crappy?”
Well, it’s that 8.5-hour elephant sitting right in the middle of my day. It doesn’t have to be there, but I need to have it there for now because I need to make more money before I can retire. If that block of time was suddenly mine for the making, the opportunities of what I could do with it are numerous. But alas, not yet; Promises to Keep and Miles to Go Before I Sleep and all that. The days would initially be filled with pleasure and relaxation. Before boredom could take over, the days would gradually move toward passions currently competing for my limited time. And, more than anything, my time would be available to give to others, to family and to friends.
I have lost nearly every friend I’ve ever gained. There are about four people that have a last name different than mine that I would be comfortable calling right now—maybe five or six because it’s football season. If it hadn’t been for Facebook, you could probably cut each of those numbers in half. This is of my own doing. I chose to leave my hometown after high school and seldom return. I chose and continue to choose to not foster friendships. I place blame for this at the foot of my job. I just don’t have the time, I say. While only partially true, its the reason that is acceptable to me. I can’t get past this, except by removing the roadblock entirely. This is a major reason why I’d like to retire early.
A Big Announcement
Another major reason just entered our lives one week ago. We are expecting NewBaby29. Two kids was always the absolute bare minimum number of kids we wanted to have, so it is exciting to be firmly on that path. While exciting, it’s also a bit scary.
When Toddler29 came aboard, the time I was able to give Wife29 dropped significantly (the same can be said for my attention to Cat29 and Cat29Jr). I’m a little concerned with how my limited time will be partitioned now that a new life is being added to the mix next Spring. How will I keep it balanced, while also balancing a work, school, and writing* schedule that all seem strained?
*Note: This life event seemed like an appropriate time to get back to writing to all of you. I do apologize for my hiatus.
I don’t have the answer. I can “finish” school at any time—it’s all voluntary, of course. But, work, not so much. There are literally millions of people who have mastered this balance successfully; I am not one of them. Life is moving forward fast, and I want to slow it down. Thanks to our lack of routine, the last few one-child years have been nice and slow—I want to keep it that way.
Gifts of Time
I’ve been given some pretty great things in my 31 years. A few bikes, an iPad, a sweet Nikon camera. These are really cool toys that have withstood the foggy memory of “stuff” that has entered and exited my life. However, more telling is the gift I described in that the story up above—it is that simple and sacrificial gift of time that sticks out in my memory. Additionally, I recall with precision dozens of camping trips with my dad and brother. Family roadies. Late-night taco runs and cram sessions with my best man. Watching American Idol in Saddam’s palace with my Iraq buddies. I recall hundreds of experiences that my wife and I have had, from sleeping in cars to drinking in bars. In those moments and in the memory of those moments, I feel love. Love is best expressed through time and attention given to others. No more or less. So, as my family and children grow, I look forward to being in so many of their own blossoming memories. There is nothing I want more than that.
Of all the great things I could give to my kids, I want nothing more than to give them so much time. If a life is but a collection of one’s experiences, I want to be significant in that collection, and in the collections of many others. I can do this adequately if I work for many more years, but why, if I don’t have to?
I’ll end with the first haiku I’ve ever written (while channeling John Lennon a second time).
All you need is love,
“Love” is Spelled T-I-M-E,
All you need is time.
Thank you for reading.