The Pathology Of Time

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Big Ben – Westminster Abbey, London, England

The Pathology of Time, or the hardest habit for me to break.  I am a gringo Norte Americano living in the land of mañana (Ciudad de Merida, Yucatan).  We Americans share a weird pathology, relative to time, with a few other compulsive cultures from around the world—the Japanese and Swiss most readily come to mind (but there are others).  We think we’re being efficient, other cultures think we’re sick in the head.  Its been almost two years since I moved south, and I am still a struggling, recovering timeaddict.

It starts young, and it typically starts with our parents.  My dad was compulsive about time—we not only had to be on time, we had to be early (very early).  My earliest memories are of my family showing up at restaurants and appointments an hour before they even opened, and my dad continually glancing at the watch on his wrist.  And his increasing anger was commensurate with the anxiety he felt if he thought we were going to be late.  You could see it build in him until there was an explosion.  Totally ridiculous, of course, but real nonetheless.  I grew up thinking this was natural behavior.

I received my first watch probably around the age of seven.  I still have a love-hate relationship with watches and clocks.  They fascinate me, and they can be both interesting and beautiful.  I collected old fashion pocket watches for a while, and I usually have at least half a dozen wristwatches in my possession at any given time.  I still have an appreciation for the [classic] timekeeper’s, while at the same time trying to slip the bonds and constraints of my slavery to time.  Time is a strict master who will truly and literally enslave you given half a chance.

And American (meaning the United States) society reinforces and supports that master every chance it gets.  From the time we enter Kindergarten (and even before) we are taught to march in lockstep with time and his schedules and dictates.  I refer to time as being masculine, because it seems to be more of a problem for men—many husbands and boyfriends will attest to the fact that their significant other has no concept of time.  Me included.  I’ve driven more than one woman completely bonkers (well, more bonkers) with arguments about time—like my dad, my anger historically has been intrinsically linked to my time anxiety.  And spending six years in the Marine Corps, and the bulk of my working career in the corporate rat-race did nothing to help alleviate the problem—it only exacerbated the problem.

When I finally retired (quit actually) in 2011 I said to hell with it.  Why should I continue to be a slave to old habits.  What is so vitally important about time anyway?  This compulsion with time was a product of the industrial age, and we can trace this neurosis back to the likes of Henry Ford and his assembly line.  Agricultural communities are not regulated by time, at least not the minute-by-minute/second-by-second time I’m talking about.  Their daily routine conforms to sunrise and sunset, and the planting season by the time of year. Simpler—and so much more relaxing.  Since relocating to Mexico I’ve made some real progress in my battle with time.

Latin America truly is the land of mañana.  It stresses me sometimes, but I’m getting much better at dealing with it.  I had a long lunch (by USA standards, short by Mexican standards) with my lady friend Dolores awhile back.  Dolores is Mexican, well-educated and speaks fluent English.  She explained to me how silly we gringos appear to the locales with our addiction to time.  She went into great detail about a Mexican’s approach to time versus a Norte Americano’s approach to time.  It was hysterical and kept me laughing throughout, but it was also pathetic.  But the funniest thing was that Dolores was actually getting stressed out herself when she realized that she would be late (by our standards) to our lunch appointment.  Dolores is both a Mexican and a woman, so I knew there was no way she would be there promptly at our 1:00 p.m. agreed upon time.  She showed up a little after 1:30 p.m. (early by Mexican standards), and was a little anxious thinking I was going to be overly concerned with her lateness.  I wasn’t—I was just amused.  Two years ago back in the States I would have been pissed (or at least disgruntled).  I am making progress. And, frankly, Mexicans don’t have lunch at 1:00 p.m. like gringos, they don’t usually sit down much before 3:00 p.m.  Time addiction can be contagious—sorry Delores.

We are the butt of a good many jokes and good natured chiding down here with our Norte Americano ways.  And it’s not just about time, but how we engage with people.  They like us well enough, but they know we are crazy.  And who am I to argue the point.  It’s a good thing to keep in mind if you’re a world traveler.  What we often view as rude or inconsiderate behavior is usually just a difference in culture absent of negative intent.  We, as so-called Americans (I say that because folks in Latin America refer to themselves as Americans too), are also perceived as rude and inconsiderate people—again, absent of negative intent.  A good rule of thumb is:  To smile a lot and to always assume positive intent.  

I am so much happier (more content) now that I don’t live by the clock or watch.  Things will happen in their own time, or not.  We lose sight of how much anxiety can be introduced into our lives simply by trying to adhere to artificial time schedules.  It’s like letting too much Facebook or negative news media cloud over our sunny dispositions. There is always Mañana.  Personal note:  I now have only one watch (tick-tock).    

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