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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Time is precious, don't wish it away

Early morning a few days ago, I found myself in a deer stand with my bow, waiting for the sun to come up. For me, this time alone is a good time to think and enjoy nature. However, like most of us, I found myself being impatient and hoping time would pass more quickly. In this case, I was impatient for the sun to rise, for the day to begin with all its promise.

I was excited to know whether I would get a chance at a mature buck, but even more anxious to see the squirrels and rabbits play, and the birds visit in the tree next to me. This anxiety led me to wishing the sun would rise, the day would start, and I would realize the potential the day held. What I wasn't, was in the moment.

That moment, that time before the sun rose, on that day, will never come again. The cool, still air would be interrupted in a few precious minutes; and with a wife, four kids and a host of relatives, the rest of my day would be filled with activity I would find difficult to escape. Therefore, the minutes I was wishing away were important and deserved to be honored and enjoyed for the glory contained in them.

This early morning revelation is something I have to remind myself of often because I tend to live my life in the future, always planning and working toward the next thing. The holiday season tends to push us to wish time would pass, so the holiday hustle and stress would end, or so we can see relatives and friends with whom we don't spend enough time. To my great fortune, several years ago I read "The Book of Virtues" by William Bennett.

In that book is the story of a little boy, who like most of us, sees the glorious spring day and wishes to be playing instead of inside a classroom. He daydreams away his education for the day, and on his way home wishes the school year would end and summer would arrive. A beautiful woman approaches and offers him a silver ball with a little thread hanging out. She explains this thread is his life thread and if he desires time to move faster when he is bored or in pain, all he has to do is pull the thread. However, when he has pulled all the thread then his life is over.

He pulls the thread when he gets bored in school, when he can't wait to marry the girl of his dreams, when his kids are sick, when he is imprisoned for his political beliefs and when he has to go to war. At the end of his life when his wife is sick and he has no money for a doctor, he pulls the thread and she is gone. . . He looks down to see golden thread coming from the ball and realizes his life is nearly over and he has missed so very much, pulling that thread.

He goes back to the stream and sits on a stump and mutters about his poor luck in owning the ball. A ragged old woman appears before him and castigates him, "You silly man, you begged for the ball despite my warning and now you bemoan the loss of your life." He tells her he is sorry and he didn't realize that the bad times of his life were important and sacred too. She offers to take back the ball on the condition he never again wishes for time to pass quickly. When gratefully he agrees, he awakens as a boy, having simply fallen asleep during lessons.

I remind myself of this story anytime I find myself wishing for time to pass quickly. I hope during the stress of the holidays and what the New Year might bring you, this story brings you the lesson and solace it brings me.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. Mark has completed graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a Ph.D. in Leadership studies at Texas A&M University. He is happy to speak or provide a workshop for your organization and can be reached at

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