By Mesha Oh
12 December, 2014
“What do you do to pass time?” I asked the old man.
“Pass time? Why, I have no time to pass at all!” he exclaimed, sounding a little indignant.
I hadn’t meant to sound condescending, but there was, I now recognize, a tinge of superciliousness in my question, which I wasn’t aware of myself at the time. At the back of my mind, I probably did think (and I realize that he seemed to have suspected so) that at his advanced age, he could do pretty much nothing and that, therefore, he had all the time in the world for ‘time-pass’.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I mumbled clumsily. “What I meant to ask you was what you do in your spare time.”
“Believe it or not, I don’t have a single moment to spare! I’m not, and have never been, a time-pass-wala!” he replied firmly. “Time is to be used, not something to be passed. I’d be ‘time-passing’ if I thought time to be a burden that had to be grudgingly tolerated. But no! Time is an amazingly valuable treasure that needs to be cherished and carefully employed, each little moment of it.”
“Every moment of our lives is a precious gift—from God,” he went on. “After we die and when we encounter God, we will have to answer for how we spent each bit of time that we blessed us with on earth. God has given us the freedom to use as we like the limited amount of time that He has allotted us here. But He has also let us know that what we do with this time will determine the course of our life, not just in this world, but for all time to come.”
He paused for a while and exclaimed, “Yes, for eternity! Eternity! Did you hear me?”
Eternity! He shut his eyes and repeated the word over and over again, shaking his head this way and that as he did so, overwhelmed by the emotions that the word evoked.
I tried to think of eternity. I thought of time rolling on and on, into an interminable darkness, of one century following another, then one millennium melting into the next, and then millions of aeons emerging from the tail end of millions of previous ones, with no end to it all. I felt faint! Contemplating eternity was really quite scary!
“Yes, that what all the divine religions teach,” he whispered, breaking the silence. “The way you handle every little bit of time that you have been blessed with in this world has formidable consequences for your eternity, forever and ever! Each moment here that you spend in the manner God wants you to, helps shape a better eternity for you. Every moment spent in any other way, even just as ‘time-pass’, can count against you for eternity! Just imagine that! You’re frightened out of your wits, I can see! You can now understand, I think, why I say that I have not a moment to waste, for ‘time-pass’.”
I had never reflected on time in that way before. I noticed a shudder of dread run down my spine as I ruminated about the long hours I had spent throughout my life ‘time-passing’, lazing around, gallivanting aimlessly, watching rubbish on TV, reading trashy thrillers, making meaningless small-talk, overeating and sleeping almost double of what I really needed to. Why, almost the whole of last week I skipped college and laid about in bed all day, doing nothing at all, because I felt my life had no purpose and I fretted that the medicines that the psychiatrist had suggested weren’t making any difference at all to what seemed to be a perennial depression! Just yesterday I had gone to the neighbourhood mall to ‘hang out’, window-shop and go up and down the escalators simply because I didn’t know what else to do with myself! And this very morning I was so bored out of my wits, not knowing how I would ever survive the five hours that remained for lunch and my afternoon nap, that I phoned up half a dozen friends and gossiped about this and that, and then, when I was done with that, I sent out SMS-es to I can’t recall how many people just to say “Hope you have a brilliant Sunday!”, although I really didn’t mean a word of it.
The man stretched out his gnarled hand to pick up his rosary. I watched him intently as he whispered his mantra and slowly rotated his beads. The peace that gradually spread across his deeply-lined face was palpable.
“I’m truly blessed that God still gives me time to live, that I am still alive at 92, despite diabetes and three heart-attacks,” he continued. “For every moment He has blessed me with I am truly grateful. Each moment I get is yet another opportunity given by Him for me to remember Him, to thank Him and to seek to do His will.”
“It wasn’t always like this,” he explained. “I learnt all this pretty late in life—in my 50s. But, then, as it is rightly said, better late than never. For a good part of my life, I thought—and this I was taught by my parents, friends and teachers, and the movies, the advertising industry, the media, the politicians and the self-appointed ‘experts’—that the purpose of life was, as they put it, to ‘enjoy’. The sole reason we were on earth, I was given to believe, was to maximize the stimulation of the five senses: to have as much 'good' food as I could lay my hands on, 'good' music, a 'good' bank balance”, 'good' looks, a 'good' figure, a 'good' complexion, 'good' clothes, a 'good' house, a 'good' car. And so on. That’s what I spent my time chasing, until one day, when I almost died with exhaustion of chasing the dream of the supposedly 'good' life. God led me to awake to the utter futility and falsity of it all. None of all what I was spending my life and time on, I learnt, was going to help me in the eternal hereafter. That’s when and how my whole approach to time and its use was totally transformed.”
I sat transfixed in my chair as he went on. I was hearing things that I had never heard before.
“God, in His grace, then led me to realize that the time He had blessed me with—and I don’t know how many moments I have left now—was to be used to do His will, not mine. I now understood that it was in this way, and none other, that I could experience true joy, in this world and for all time to come—in the life after death. And so, I began to try to use my time very consciously, pleading God to guide me so that I spent every moment as He, not I, wanted.”
He stopped for a while to let me reflect on what he had said, and then explained, “When you remind yourself that you have to die one day—and that’s one of the very few things we can ever be sure of—and that after our physical death, an eternal, never-ending life begins, your purpose in life can be dramatically overturned—as mine was—and, with it, your attitude to time. No longer would you ever have to agonize about how to ‘pass’ time, as if life or time were an enormous burden that you have are compelled to suffer. Instead, you’d be immensely grateful to God for each moment of time He’s blessed you with, because every fraction of time you get is a new opportunity that He provides you with for you to spend in order to please Him, and to bring true joy to yourself, too—not just in this world but for eternity, too.”
“I’ve spoken enough now,” he said after a while. I could see it had been exhausting for him. “It’s time for me now to converse with God. But before that, I must answer the question that you started off with about how I spend my time—and I’m sorry that I had to employ such a long, winded way of getting to do that. Conversing with God is what I try to do with my time, all the time—even when I’m eating or brushing my teeth or relaxing in my chair in the sun! Of course I slip up sometimes and forget, but then I nudge myself back into remembering. Believe me, chatting with God through much of the day—sharing with Him my joys and sorrows, expressing my thanks to Him for all that He’s given me, and even cracking jokes and laughing with him and doing baby-talk—leaves me with absolutely no ‘spare’ time. I honestly have no time at all for ‘time-pass’!”