Now Then

by Nola Garrett

“The FROST performs its secret ministry.”
       from “Frost at Midnight” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Now, that this year’s Pittsburgh Pirates’ baseball season is finished, what I most recall are the  joyous moments I experienced watching the games on the Roots Sports channel while I sat here in my condo a few hundred yards across the Allegheny River from PNC Park when a Pirate batter was beginning his swing and I was hearing the exploding fireworks indicating he had hit a home run. Don’t bother reminding me about the electronic time lag inherent in those moments. Though I understand the science, I’m not dealing with physics in its most literal sense. I’m talking about my brief experience of joy. Perhaps, akin to Steven Hawking’s ironic title choice for A Brief History of Time.  What I felt was some sort of metaphysical joy. Did I save time? Will I be able to use that saved time later?

During my life I’ve experienced other joyous time-saving events, some involving much longer time periods. When I was eight years old, I remember the joy I felt while I took the short cut most mornings while walking from home across the lots around Walter Wright’s garden, then hopping on stepping stones across the creek behind the filling station that eventually became the Mill Village Post Office, crossing the street, to the sidewalk, then turning uphill to shudder  under the shadowed rail road bridge, then walking the half block to the Mill Village Grade School, thus getting to the place where I was always most happy sooner.

My first year at what was then Clarion State Teachers’ College, where I was even happier than I had been in grade school or high school, I realized my tuition bill was the same if I took 15 credits or even 21 credits each semester. Every semester after that insight, I gobbled 18 to 20 credits, attended summer school, and graduated in three years. By my lights, I saved an entire year.

During my first marriage, because I discovered I enjoyed being pregnant, I chose to become pregnant with my second child less than a year after the birth of my first child, partly for my own pleasure and partly so the two children could be playmates for each other the way I had been a playmate with my brother, Joel, who was a year younger than I. Maybe, I saved time. Certainly, my labor was hours shorter during my second delivery. And, I succeed in creating two sons whose best friends for many, many years.

While saving time, another part of my joy is the mysterious pleasure that for a rare ambiguous moment I feel the semblance of escaping time which in many ways is how I feel when I dream. I’ve always loved dreaming. Going to bed every night for me is like going to the movies. Over the last several months my health has improved, and I’ve been sleeping more soundly. I’m dreaming more often deep dreams involving my past two husbands, my two sons, my childhood, strange houses I seem to be living in. I’m dreaming new sorts of dreams, non-narrative, grand abstract ideas uniting time, reading, banking, computer technology, flowers, music, cooking, teaching, newspapers, game theory, visual art, and of course, writing. Maybe it’s the new buckwheat-filled pillow I bought that the Japanese suggest will keep my body more aligned? Maybe, now retired, living in the midst of a beautiful, interesting city, at last I’m free to use my saved time.

However, I may have already used my saved time when in the Spring of 1996 I took advantage of an early retirement window from my tenured teaching position at Edinboro University of PA to maintain our marriage when my husband accepted a call to a large Lutheran congregation in Spring Hill, Florida. I used those ten years—I would have been happily teaching at EUP—to learn how to write poetry. What I used or gained, depending how much you value poetry, was the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers one needs to master a high level skill. From a money and time standpoint my husband and the congregation were horrified that I was wasting my time. My poetry publications usually paid little more than a journal copy. Besides, who reads poetry anyway? And, when I volunteered to become a Guardian ad Litem for children who were dependants of the 5th Judicial District Court of Florida, because I felt I could be of help using my writing skills for those children at court; there was yet another frosty reaction until the national Lutheran women’s organization selected foster children and their support system as their theme for that year. Then, while none of them actually came out and apologized, including my husband, at least I was left in peace to practice my writing skills.

If time is money, how I’ve chosen to live a major part of my adult life writing essays, foster children’s court reports, and poetry has resulted in my financial failure. But if time saved spent writing, which for me makes time stand still resulting in joy, I’m still willing to pay that price sometimes with cold cash, sometimes with loneliness, sometimes with tears.


 

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