Week 9: An Alchemist with Time

When we want to carry out something, we tell ourselves, “I’ll just have to make time for it, I guess.”

Making time is, of course, a misnomer. We can’t make it anymore than we can make space. It is finite and a given. A “given” is a geometry term, the unquestionable beginning from which a proof is derived. Time is a given, allotted to us with our finite abilities and the proofs spin out in lives lived. Will the proof of my life reach the desired conclusion?

Mike Rohde's Custom Moleskine Planner

The topic of time usually draws well-meaning solutions from the “time management” sector. When I use the term “managing time,” I’m flooded with images of business planners and cell phones and people trying to cram as many details into the minutes as they can. There are so many books written on the subject that it might be called a national obsession, a frenzy to control every second of life. Perhaps it is a necessary path a person must follow — to war with time — dominating it with an agenda and bringing it into submission. If so, I’ve done that phase and wish to move on. I’ve made my schedules and followed them religiously. I’ve put all that I need to do into compartments and slots and clicked along at a fabulous pace, ticking items off as I accomplished them. I learned many things through it…discipline, self-control, diligence, and hard-work.

But this year, I’m seeking the big solution. Like an alchemist, I strive for the science of miracles. I hope to turn lead into gold, medicine into panacea, and lime and alcohol into a universal solvent…

only with time.

There are those who get a lot of things done and whine about “missing out” on the small things of life or never “being present” or “in the present moment.” (I’m guilty). There are those who brag about being present with their children or family as an excuse for why the house is a mess or why they haven’t gotten much done. (I’m guilty here, too).

Is there a way to be “present” and do? Is it possible to neither cram time full nor waste it?

I wonder. Reading Walden has me thinking.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet- Matt Lee

This morning, I woke up and escaped for a few moments to bird outside. I was at my parents’ house where the moist air feels so warm even when it’s cool. I carefully stepped through the wet grass and sidled up to where the marshy ground met the trees. Soon, a robin came to visit. Robins are so common they disappear into the background. I don’t notice them anymore. But today, I locked him in my binoculars and paid attention. The cheeky little fellow stared back. He followed me as I walked along, keeping a white-ringed eye upon me. A pair of Rufous-sided towhees secreted themselves in a hallow in the ground.  My jaunt ended when the kinglets visited. I watched them courting, waiting for the flash of ruby on their crowns. One of them tilted its head just right and I caught it. The flash, so sudden, so elusive, split the moment and filled it with joy.

Moments of joy. How I wish they weren’t so fleeting! How I wish they weren’t so rare! I think this is what Thoreau was seeking when he set out to build his cabin on the bank of Walden pond.

In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and the future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.

I, too, wish to bridge eternities with my existence. I hope to be, to live, to worship, and to cherish the moments and find joy within them.

Perhaps this is done anywhere and by anyone. But I’m not so sure. I feel we must cultivate time carefully, like a garden. How should the garden grow?

Thoreau says we spend much of our lives decorating our coffins (houses). We haven’t come further than the pharaohs of old, building our tombs — at least, the pharaohs had others do the labor.

While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings. And, if the civilized man’s pursuits are no worthier than the savage’s, if he is employed the greater part of his life in obtaining gross necessaries and comforts merely, why should he have a better dwelling than the former?

Thoreau's Cabin
Thoreau’s Cabin (Photo credit: jamieca) He built it for about $28, a year’s worth of rent in those days.

So, if we just keep improving our coffins, where have we gotten? Somehow, we must improve ourselves. How much time do we spend on caring for possessions and not our minds, hearts, and fellow human beings? How much time do we spin in making more and not giving away? I don’t even have time for the Creator of the Universe. And yet, He is the gateway to eternity.

All aims of alchemy have to do with eternal rewards — never-ending riches, a cure-all, an elixir of life, a universal solvent…

I, too, seek these rewards. But I believe to gain these rewards means a change in lifestyle, a change in life aims, and a change in life processes. We can’t live like everyone else if we expect to get something different. We must admit the culture in which we live is a patch of weeds and strike out in a new direction. We must become alchemists with time, transmuting leaden hours into gold.

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    1. I love your writing. it makes me sing. climb every mountain. You are great communicator besides a very beautiful person. happy Easter


  1. I truly hope that someday I can take you along the walking path around Walden Pond in Concord, during a quiet weekday morning, to avoid the hordes of people who also seek some connection with Mr. Thoreau and his ‘timeless’ message. Jason and I blessed to frequent this gem in all seasons when my 17 year old was a baby in a backpack. I’d walk around, he’d swim across and back. Let’s go in the autumn.


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