Walk into most preschool classrooms in America, and you’re sure to see it: that oversized calendar near the floor, accessible to four-year olds, where children are led through a recitation of the days of the week and the months of the year, as well as a counting of the dates in the month.
From an early age, especially in this country, we’re determined to understand and focus on the passage of time. Many Europeans chuckle over our obsession with timeliness, and folks from South America and Africa often really don’t get it at all.
But recognizing that time is our most valuable commodity, we value it highly and try to avoid wasting it. We teach our children about the calendar at preschool and then even more profoundly as they see us continually consult our paper or electronic calendars. Our subtle (if unintended) message is that the schedule is of great importance.
And so we live, following the calendar and the clock, lulled into thinking we are in control of our time—until some event throws the whole thing into chaos.
A child gets sick, and the carefully planned schedule is scrapped. A car wreck on our way to an appointment makes that appointment impossible. A baby makes his entrance into the world two months before he was expected (and before his parents had arranged their family leave).
Suddenly we come to understand that other considerations are more critical than the schedule of events we thought we were controlling. The experience is both humbling and liberating: humbling, because we’re forced to recognize that we don’t have the control we imagined we have over this life we lead. As the saying goes, if you want to hear God laugh, just tell Him what you plan to do this weekend.
And it’s liberating because we come to realize that some of the schedule we create is not as important as we thought it was. It brings our priorities into clear focus, reminding us about what matters most in our personal values.
Our illusion that we control much beyond this moment is easily shattered. But satisfaction is discovered when we recognize that today is the very best day to spend our precious time on our most highly-valued priorities.