Carole Leskin: Tick Tock, I Hate the Clock!

London clock. Copyright ©2008 Steve Lubetkin. Used by permission.
London clock. Copyright ©2008 Steve Lubetkin. Used by permission.

Time passes. Things change. It begins the moment you are born. It ends the moment you die. I get it. I don’t like it.

Until recently, I did not have much of a relationship with time. It was a necessary tool to keep my life running smoothly. My alarm clock was set, usually 7 days a week. And just to be sure, a backup set 15 minutes later so I did not go back to sleep!

But in my late sixties, the relationship began to change. And now that I am 71, we are barely on speaking terms. The truth is, time terrifies me. And all the clichés seem to be true. Time flies.

There is never enough time. I have too much time on my hands. My “time management skills” are not effective. And the really big questions: “Where did all the time go?” And “How much time do I have left?”

I think that for people with family, those who have children and grandchildren, it’s a bit easier, because there is a visual representation of the passage of time. My friends tell me that this is often startling and even shocking. Watching sons and daughters grow from infancy to adolescence to adulthood, and then watching the process yet again with the grandchildren. But for those of us without family, it is often the reflection in the mirror that measures the passage of time. And for many of us, with families or not, the physical changes that occur, and sometimes the mental changes as well, are all we need to remind us of the clock ticking.

I remember vividly the first moment I collided with time. I was driving in my car alone, with the radio on, half­heartedly listening to the news. Suddenly an announcement caught my attention. A popular singer, whose songs I had loved for years, had died unexpectedly at the age of 74. And I said aloud to myself “only 7 more years left!” I was 67 then. It was the first time I ever had such a thought. And it came as a jolt. Now the mathematical calculation comes regularly when I hear about someone I knew. I call this my “obituary clock.” Of course the number of years vary; sometimes I have a lot of time left and other times very little. But always, the clock is ticking.

I was taught early on that time is valuable. This meant that it was imperative to make the best use of it. And that meant not to waste it, to be productive. As an adult, there was a list of things to be accomplished each day. In the evening I would check them off and anything not done was moved to the next day’s list. At the end of the week anything that remained was a painful reminder that I had not been entirely successful. And looking back, it was amazing how much I got done! Remember “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re the man.” I was the poster child for that ridiculous commercial!

But nowadays, measuring my productivity is a different story entirely. I am constantly struggling with the feeling that I am wasting time. And that leads to feelings of failure and uselessness.

Without a long list of things to be done, who am I? What is my purpose? How do I live without a sense of accomplishment? Not a good place to be, emotionally. It’s not that there is a lack of activity. Sometimes the calendar is filled with places to go, things to do, people to meet, and volunteer work. But most of it is fun. Not accountable or a heavy responsibility. And realistically, if it did not get done, it would not really matter or could be easily rescheduled. So is it worthwhile? Without the pressure of time, without the hectic, headache producing feeling that I will never get it all done, what is life all about? Lest you think that I am some kind of crazed workaholic, you would be wrong. I enjoyed wonderful vacations and did my best to make time for friends. But there was a different kind of balance. Fun and relaxation were special occasions. Now they are more often a way of life. I know I should be grateful for the blessing. After all, isn’t this the dream I had when I was working so hard and looking forward to retirement? What is the matter with me? Why can’t I learn that I am a human being, not a human doing?

I think a lot about aging. I read, attend seminars and listen to people who talk about aging gracefully. I always thought I would be one of them. But I am not. At least not yet. I am sad that I do not seem to have a legacy. And I am afraid of dying before I have a chance to create one. I have no children or grandchildren so there is no one left behind whose life I have helped to shape. And I do not have the finances to create or endow a worthy charity. How do I make the time I have left meaningful?

There was a lovely line in the movie Best Little Marigold Hotel. “It’s not that there is no time like the present; it’s that there is no present like time.” Father Time has no compassion. He acts randomly. But somehow I must learn to coexist with him and make peace. I wonder if I have enough time? Tick tock.

Carole Leskin caroleleskin15@comcast. net


  1. Yes, indeed, the clock keeps ticking, and for many of us there is the sense of that clock winding down…. Retirement was to give us the right to make choices, luxuriate in lazing around a bit, come off the clock, so to speak, Yet, I’ve found as I watch retirees, including my almost 72 year old self, that without routine activity connected to each specific day, and time related plans to look forward to–the vacation, the grandkids’ visit, the event we’re passionate about, way too many of us begin to vegetate, lose connection, and hasten death. Perhaps we need the external clock and calendar to balance the internal one; perhaps meaning is in doing so that we can see connection and purpose. Na’aseh v’nishma….first the doing and then the seeing (meaning) comes.

  2. Carol, Part of your legacy are the wonderful pieces you share with us here. Best wishes for many more years (obituary clock be damned!) and many more literary gems to share. See you in Rabbi Address’s next Torah class.

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