A short story about time and men in grey suits by Katie Probert.
My friend Ursi has a tortoise tattooed on her right thigh, with the words “Zeit ist Leben. Und das Leben wohnt im Herzen,” which means, “Time is life itself, and life resides in the human heart.” These words are from a children’s book called Momo, written by the German author Michael Ende. In the story, an army of men in grey suits are living off of time stolen from the citizens.
The image of the tortoise in Ursi’s tattoo reminds her to slow down, to take her time. Aesop illustrates the moral of “slow and steady wins the race” in his fable “The Tortoise and the Hare”. The tortoise represents a creature who does not rush through life-instead he paces himself, moving slowly, carrying his home on his back.
My boyfriend and I feel like the tortoise when we are driving our van, trundling through the French countryside on the scenic route. Everything we own is contained in our little home on wheels: our bed, our kitchen, our bathroom, water, food, and our favorite objects. Just like a normal home, the only difference is everything is in miniature, fitted into an 8m square box. We take no more than we can carry.
We move slowly from place to place, free to roam and to see new sights. We see the miles of sunflower fields where the yellow blooms tower high overhead, like a million bright suns. We sit on a grassy hill in summer time and watch a sunset, seeing the sky change from orange and gold and purple and indigo and finally to black, glittered with stars. We see the village celebration where we observe residents laughing and chattering and sharing the food from their hog roast. A quiet overnight pitstop turns into an impromptu party fuelled by strawberry wine when we discover we are sharing a field with the tandem cycling club of the south of France. Seeing wonder in the everyday and connecting with the other human hearts that I encounter fills my own human heart with joy.
We live in a fast world. High speed trains, high speed internet connections. We demand fast food and fast fashion and rush around in a flurry of schedules and deadlines. Any destination in the world can be reached within 24 hours. We absorb an exhausting amount of information on a daily basis – emails that ping into our inboxes, blogs that require reading, sidebars and hyperlinks that catch our attention and drag us into a frenzied clicking voyage through the world wide web. We keep phones in our pockets for permanent connectivity. We watch adverts on TV with our faces constantly deep in flickering screens, allowing ourselves to be bombarded with updates during all our waking hours.
What if we shut it all out. For a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month. A year?
One of my favourite lines from the movie Fight Club is, “You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis.” This reminds us that our lives are ultimately determined by how we decide to spend our time, not our money.
In modern western society, time has become a commodity that can be traded for currency that we obsessively spend keeping up with the latest things; only to near the end and find that our quota is spent and our time is up – and how did we spend it? Sometimes we forget that time is the most precious resource we have – the one that we can’t put in a bank and save it for later. The one that doesn’t gather interest or gain or lose its value. Every person is subject to the same amount of time. No matter what someone’s hourly wage, everyone experiences 60 seconds to every minute. It matters that as much as possible we are spending our time engaged in activities that we care about with people for whom we have mutual appreciation and respect.
Pay attention to what makes your human heart glow. As long are you are doing what you love, the men in grey suits can take nothing from you—for you are the keeper of your own time.
Titelfoto: Christiane Weihe