Time in a bottleneck

“The Time Keeper,” by Mitch Albom (2012)

Who divided up the days into hours, the hours into minutes?
How could they really be that smart?
Who divided up the minutes into seconds?
They must have had a broken
Must have had a broken heart

— Joan Osborne, “Who Divided”

In Mitch Albom’s latest novel, we meet the guy who divided the days into hours, the hours into minutes, and so forth. He ended up with a broken heart.

Young Dor, living at the dawn of humanity’s history, invents numbers and counting. He mitchalbom.comfigures out how to mark the passage of time with a shadow, stick, and stone. As he grows older, marries his beloved Alli, and has children, he becomes consumed with catching shadows and measuring water. He invents the first clock and calendar.

That’s when it gets complicated.

His childhood “frenemy” uses one of Dor’s sun sticks to try to defeat the gods and gain power. This forces Dor and Alli into exile, leaving their children in the care of others. When Alli dies, an anguished Dor ends up imprisoned in a cave where he will not age a moment. The only thing he can do is listen, for eternity, to the voices of everyone on earth asking for more time.

Well, not quite eternity. After thousands of years, Dor (aka Father Time) is freed with a magical hourglass and a redemptive mission to help two particular people understand the gift of time. Sarah is a teen girl of high intelligence and low self-esteem. Her sense of time crumbles along with her heart when the boy she likes does not like her back (or even treat her with basic decency or respect). Victor is a self-made billionaire who is used to getting what he wants. When his cancer is deemed untreatable, he seeks immortality in science — by making secret plans to have his body frozen for revival centuries later. Sarah and Victor don’t just need Father Time’s intervention. They need each other in ways they’ll discover only when the paths of all three converge and difficult choices are required. The last part of the book is somewhat reminiscent of Scrooge’s life review in “A Christmas Carol.”

Time happens. It passes. It’s a gift from God, and a precious one at that. At the same time, it’s an earthly construct. Or more accurately, its measurement and manipulation are our doing and not God’s. That’s what Albom seems to say in this fast-moving (or did it just seem that way?) read.

Albom, like me, comes from the world of newspaper deadlines. Much more rides on time in fields such as emergency medicine and firefighting. Apart from this — what if we let go of our need to cram as much activity or accomplishment into every minute, hour, or day as possible? Or our need to treat time as if it doesn’t matter because we think we don’t matter? We might find peace we didn’t know was possible in this lifetime.

“All in God’s time.” It’s a tough concept in an impatient age . . . but definitely worth considering.

Sensitive revolution

“The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You,” by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. (Revised ed., 2013)

“I’m off the charts on this Highly Sensitive Person quiz,” I remarked.

A sigh issued from the other side of the room. “Ohhh, Lord.”

That was probably in the late 1990s, and I’d just read a brief about a new book about highly sensitive individuals, with a miniature version of the “Are you an HSP?” questionnaire. Up to that point, the word “sensitive” was usually preceded by “too,” and so I’d tried not to be. It had never occurred to me that sensitivity could be a natural trait, let alone a positive influence. So when I read the book, it was an eye-opener.

This revised edition adds expanded scientific research into the trait of high sensitivity and a new description of it: DOES (gotta love those acronyms). D – depth of processing; O – being easily overstimulated; E – emotional reactions and empathy; and S – sensitivity to all the subtleties around us. There is also a more extended discussion of psychiatric medications.

Aron paints no pretty pictures of sensitivity. It’s not always an advantage, and it has its costs. Feeling everything so intensely (and some of it not even ours) puts us on a path that sometimes intersects with the mainstream but more often does not. Instead, she walks us through all aspects of life as an HSP — from childhood experiences to work and relationship issues to health and spirituality. It’s not an easy road, and if we’re not careful, we can become easily offended, demanding, and difficult. Being sensitive is about what we have to offer, not about what we think the world owes us.

In the section on spirituality, Aron writes of four particular experiences she’s had with HSPs: “spontaneous deep silence creating a hallowed kind of collective presence, considerate behavior, soul/spirit directness, and insight about all of this.” HSPs are the priests and prophets, artists and poets, she says. We are the ones with the rich inner lives that help us find meaning where there is precious little in evidence — Victor Frankl, who survived a Nazi concentration camp and wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning,” is a prime example given.

We are not necessarily smarter, nicer, or better than our non-HSP brothers and sisters. However, learning more about the trait of high sensitivity and how to manage it can help us stop perceiving ourselves as weak or inferior.

That is the primary message I’ve taken from this book, both the earlier versions and this revised edition: Sensitivity does not have to be a liability in life. Like other traits, we can turn it into a gift or a curse. If we can find a way to make it work for us and for the benefit of others, we all come out ahead.