Many years ago, struggling to finish some apparently urgent job before lunchtime, and with some other apparently equally urgent thing to do during the break, I found myself flustered and pressed for time, cursing every snag and delay.
Then a strange thing happened.
A small voice whispered, not in my ear but in my mind, ‘Calm down. I own time. I made it and I own it.’
The job entailed fixing something, I don’t know what, to a wall or a desk. The screws would not turn, their heads were burred, nothing aligned. I had tried all the usual cuss words, slamming things down, blaming other things for being out of reach or just not being where I had only just put them…
… ‘So,’ I said, whether out loud or in my head, I don’t remember, ‘then why is it taking so long? My wrists and fingers ache, and my chance of getting across town to the lab and back is getting close to nil.’
Suddenly the last screw – it’s always the last one –gave a little jump sideways. The screwdriver went one way, the screw several feet the other. I had already used up my supply of magic words, none of which will bear repeating here. I simply stared after it, paused and trudged to pick it up. At the next try it went in like a dream. Job done. I looked at my watch. Five minutes to lunchtime, not umpteen past as I had expected, just time enough to pack up and set off.
‘O.K.’ I said, ‘If you own time I’ll take you at your word.’
I took off my watch and set off for the lab, nearly half an hour’s walk away across Cambridge, where Ian Manick and David Beale produced rigid contact lenses in what would later become Contact Lens Precision Laboratories. My first afternoon patient was booked for two o’clock. I don’t remember now, but the most likely reason for the trip was for lenses for that appointment.
When I first took the position at Haldyn Clamp’s contact lens practice in Bridge Street near St John’s College, Ian and David were restricted in one small kitchen at the back. They soon outgrew this and were now a mile or so away in much better premises in Fitzroy Street. Hence my trip. Cambridge does not have easy, cross-city car or bus routes so I had to walk.
The weather was fine, the distance was the problem. Nevertheless, having discarded my watch I avoided looking at any clocks on the way. Time was passing but I told myself it was not mine; I was trusting the owner.
I enjoyed the walk, determinedly at first but gradually easier and easier. The weather was certainly good and the sun pleasantly warm. I found I was no longer saying, ‘If you own time I will take your word.’ The if had gone. It was going to be alright.
I went by Midsummer Common, a longer route but pleasant. It was not as late as I had feared and I felt increasingly, though still a tad wilfully, that time was not in my hands. I strolled in the sun.
Eventually I arrived at the lab.
The lenses were not ready. Heads shook ruefully, reasons were given, promises – no – hopes were expressed.
‘Later this afternoon?’ No, too late.
‘Why not go into the Grafton Centre and have some lunch? Perhaps…’
Suddenly, greatly missing my watch but determined not to ask the time, I felt very hungry. The Grafton Centre was just minutes away and soon I was going up in a lift to an unusual restaurant that only sold starters. Nowadays we might call it tapas. Because of the time involved I told myself to only order one, but there were several voices competing now: one telling me what a fool I was being; another, my stomach, telling me I was far too hungry for just one starter, and anyway I would arrive back at the lab too soon; another saying, ‘Just go back to the practice and make your excuses.’ And a quiet one persisting, ‘Time is mine, leave it to me.’
Fortunately none of them made any difference to the direction the lift was going and shortly I found myself at a white-cloth table with three assorted starters and a small glass of wine, with nothing to be gained from hurrying.
In case you think there was an obvious thing I should have done, this was in the nineteen-sixties, long before the invention of mobile phones.
Meal over, wine finished, lift down and a short walk to the lab where there was a phone. The lenses were still being edged.
I asked to use the phone and as I dialled the whisper cautioned, ‘No need, no hurry, time is mine.’
I hung up. The lenses were having a final polish and in a few minutes I was on my way. I did not take the walk back across Midsummer Common, that seemed too much of a liberty, but I still did not hurry. I gave in to the whisper and walked steadily back along Maid’s Causeway and Jesus Lane, passing Jesus College and the back of Sydney Sussex. Eventually I passed the Round Church and back to the practice in Bridge Street. As I approached there was a large clock over the jewellers before it which I refused to look at, went in the practice door, into my consulting room, picked up my watch and put it on my wrist. A minute or so later I heard the patient arrive.
I looked at my watch, checking it for the first time. Two o’clock. He was spot on.
I do not remember if the lenses were for him or a later patient but the sense that there was something other than time, something personal that owns time, has grown with me over the years.
Eternity is far more than endless time.
The Eternal possesses time.