I must confess, while visiting my in-laws in their gated community in Florida, I developed a pet peeve. At first it was a small inconvenience but then with time it grew to be a genuine disturbance.
It was the 15 second wait in the car every time I wanted to get in or out of their gated community. The gates had to be prompted by a security card and then they slowly made their way open, inch by slow inch, until finally I was able to drive by to get to the red light at the end of the driveway. I felt like a horseman getting out of the fort by having to wait for the bridge to be lowered to go over the moat.
Now I know I am from New York where our lifestyle probably would not tolerate such an extended transition just to get out of one’s house. True, if you live in an apartment building you probably spend even more time in an elevator. But these gates seem to go deliberately slow. Yes, they are made for a Florida retirement community. Still I don’t know if this is supposed to be activity #2 when you wake up in Florida, just to watch the beautiful grace by which the gates flawlessly open the world outside for a great adventure at the store or the doctors.
So as not to make too many enemies out of all my Florida friends and relatives, I’ll get right to my point, which is for them as well.
During my many trips in and out, I had the time to figure out that if someone goes through those gates just 4 times a day - that’s one minute of time. Multiply that by 365 days a year for let’s say 20 years and you have yourself spending 5 full days of your life waiting and watching the gates. When I thought of that fact, somehow it got me started on all the other ways that we spend time which all adds up to incredible chunks of our life without even realizing what is happening to us.
Take a typical commuter who travels 30 minutes twice a day; let’s say 250 days a year. That’s over ten full 24 hour days on the road. In a 35 year career that would mean a full year 24/7 of time will be spent commuting. And many people commute 2 hours a day, which would add up to a full year of time in less than 18 years. That’s one to two years out of your 70-80 all together. ONE YEAR!! Considering that we sleep away at least 20 years of an 80 year life, one year may not seem like a lot. But do the math yourself for the time you spend drinking coffee, daydreaming in bed before getting up, indulging in bad habits, or just sitting in the bathroom.
My point is not to regret the necessities of life, nor to cheat us from the relaxing moments that energize us and give us a little respite so we can go back to whatever we are doing refreshed and/or relieved. My point is that the next time we are faced with the opportunity to do something good for somebody else, or for ourselves, let’s think twice about saying/thinking that “I just don’t have enough time”. If half that time in the car/train/subway could be spent listening to Torah Lessons or one extra mitzvah a day can be worked into our schedule, think of this undiscovered potential in our lives, waiting to be developed. For most of us a small adjustment of our schedule would enable us to do something we really would like to do and know we can do if we set our mind to it.
It can be lack of planning or just plain laziness that keeps us from doing it. But once we think about how that small amount of time can really add up to a full year over the course of our life, just as we have the power to waste time, we have the power to use time wisely and transform it into a tool that can build our lives, help us reach our goals, and accomplish our piece in making this world a better place.
A 20 minute phone call 300 days a year to learn Torah with a partner can add up to almost 4 days of focused learning. That’s over 1% of all your time in a year. Ten minutes daily of talking about values with our 5-17 year old children can turn into over a month of quality time.
No I’m not endorsing that life should become a regiment where we schedule every second and don’t waste a moment. Nor am I recommending that everybody go out and take a time management course (although I never heard of anyone being hurt by one). I am encouraging each and every one of us to pick one or two areas of our life where we do waste significant time, and discipline ourselves to transform that time slot into a productive part of our lives that will make a positive change for us and those around us. I have a feeling that once we taste the results, we will want to spread it to other aspects of our life.
Do the math! It’s just a matter of priorities and self control, but the good that can come from it is truly incredible.