You don’t get to recover your losses from the time bank

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday November 25, 2012

Unabridged from my Bonus Years column in the Lifestyle section of The Sunday Capital, Annapolis, Maryland

I have always enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday – the more so as I have aged.  It kicks off a joyful day of sharing time with family and friends, a sharing that usually extends into the weekend.  This year has been no different.

Like other families, we have Thanksgiving traditions.  We always invite our kids and their partners who, in turn, sometimes invite one or two of their friends.    This year our son had to leave early because he also had obligations with the family of his partner.   As you grow older, one of our new experiences is learning how to share your kids at holiday time – and to do it with grace!

Another tradition: We also invite friends whose own families are far away.  Thanksgiving is not a time that should be spent alone.  The original Thanksgiving, after all, was a community affair – a time to celebrate the blessings that had been enjoyed by the entire group that landed on Plymouth Rock earlier that year.  Thanksgiving is a time when everyone should be close to people who love each other.  That’s why, when people may be alone owing to geography or circumstance, it is a blessing to all to invite them to share the breaking of the bread.

There is also a tradition around “when does it all begin.”  In our house, everyone is informed that they are expected “anytime after 1:00 pm” – unless, of course, they want to come earlier – and that Thanksgiving dinner will be served “sometime around 3:00 pm.”  That kind of guidance gives those coming and those in charge a lot of flexibility.   This year, “sometime around 3:00” turned out to be 4:15, but that’s in the “normal” range, so no worries.  The dinner delay just gave people more time to talk as the food was being prepared.  And some people always come early – sometimes even the night before.  And though it is not a requirement, most people bring something – e.g., a favorite side dish or desert.

On Friday after Thanksgiving we usually pack up at least one car and go to the movies.  This year we all went to see Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”  It was terrific.   So Thanksgiving is not only a day to celebrate the many blessings of a year gone by, it is also a time to renew relationships with family and friends and experience the larger culture through film, one of America’s greatest and most successful inventions.

Going back to Thursday, there is also a dinner table tradition.  It includes, of course, giving thanks and asking God’s blessing and then remembering the original Thanksgiving and why this uniquely American holiday is celebrated.   Then, as people are packing their plates with turkey, dressing, cranberries, sweet potatoes and the like, each guest at the table is given the opportunity to describe his or her most memorable Thanksgiving.  Even with the “regulars” it is interesting to note how the “most memorable” Thanksgiving often changes from year-to-year.  The changing stories are a testament to how the experience of life – even one more year – can change our perspective on our own past.  It is quite remarkable.

For first-timers, their story of their “most memorable” is always something new and fresh and interesting – giving the rest of us around the table a new window on the life of a friend.

Like many families, we also ask those around the table to talk about the ways they were blessed this year.  Some talked about a specific event or experience – like getting engaged or repairing a relationship; others talked about a general category of things – like continued good health or the blessing of living as an American, in freedom.

Now that I am well into my own bonus years, this year I said I was thankful for the blessing of time.  Each of us has many gifts – time, talent, treasure and the like.  But time is the only blessing that we cannot improve on or replace.  We can sharpen our skills throughout life – even acquire new skills in later-life.  We can lose our treasure, which will change the way we live, but sometimes we are able to recover, build it back up again – a process that many have experienced with the Great Recession and the ups and downs of savings in stocks and bonds.

But time is different from every other gift.  There is only so much – actually 8,760 hours per year.  Moreover, once those hours are used, they can never be recovered

In my book, “Reboot,” I explain it this way:  Imagine a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400.  Then, every night, at midnight, it deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to spend or invest during the previous day. What would you do?  Spend all of it, every day, of course!

Each of us has such a bank.  Instead of money, it is time.  Every morning, our “time bank” credits us with 86,400 seconds.  Every night the bank confiscates – writes off, as lost, forever – whatever of this we failed to spend or invest to good purpose during the day.  It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft.  Ben Franklin said it best: “Time lost is never found again.”

There are no “savings” you can go back to, and you can’t get an “advance” or otherwise draw on “tomorrow.”  You must live in the present, on today’s deposit. The clock is always running, so each of us has to make the most of every day – being and doing whatever it is that brings meaning to our life.  In the words of Mother Teresa, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let’s begin.”

So this Thanksgiving weekend, I have been most thankful for the gift of time. We have to use it fully and with purpose.  Otherwise, we will find ourselves with Dr. Seuss, asking, “How did it get so late so soon?”

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