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A 1,000 word piece about why we should not waste our time and our life. The question is, of course, what is and what isn’t a waste of time? The article has been published in the Mayfield and District U3A anthology.



Many years ago in my light headed twenties I was driving along one of those new motorways when I came up behind a station wagon gorged to the last cranny with multicoloured rubber balls. This man was not going on holiday. Why drive down to the coast with a zillion beach balls and no kids? Besides, some of the balls were the sort padded around lounges by dogs and babies.  It took a few minutes to think it through but all other alternatives were even less likely. I was following a rubber ball salesman. Now what sort of job was that?


It was one of those clichéd ‘Eureka’ moments. A vague structure to my life began to fall into place. Not that this vehicle and its unlikely cargo had convinced me I should become a barrister or an astronaut. It was just that I realised, if I ever became a granddad and was asked what I had done with my life, I knew that I would and could never say that I had sold rubber balls.


I have to say at once that this statement now embarrasses me. Rubber ball salesmen no doubt perform a vital role in the web of society. Their products give pleasure to millions and they are as sound citizens as anyone else. But, with the arrogance of my youth, their life’s work got written off as symbolising all that I considered was not worth doing.


But while still driving behind this car and its psychotic rainbowed windows, I knew that the implications of that statement were even more traumatic. If selling rubber balls and any other pastime I might randomly place in a similar category was not worth while I had to work out, before I was too old and got to thirty, what was. What should I be doing, as a career, for a holiday experience, next week, this evening? Hour by hour I had a responsibility to ensure time was not thrown away, that I did what I should to avoid ending up selling rubber balls. In short I should do now what had to be done and plan to do what might be done tomorrow. And if tomorrow was unknowable what better reason for doing it now?


It was ‘now’ that was the point. As each minute presented itself I had only one chance to make an impression on it. Life was an almost infinite series of ‘nows’. Discard it and it was gone. Not into a bin to be retrieved if I changed my mind, but gone. If I did not do what needed to, or even just could, be done ‘now’, including the planning of things for future ‘nows’, how often would I look back and wish that I had?


So, in response to the question, what is worthwhile?, it was simply a matter of doing those things which I would regret not doing. Of course, it had to be personally worthwhile. Doing something that someone else thought should be one of life’s ambitions was futile. But still the possibilities that flowed from this stance were endless. Marriage, children, a mortgage and a career sit nicely in there but so does walking the trail to Machu Picchu, going potholing while accompanied by claustrophobia, and visiting the hill tribes on the Thai/Burmese border.


I became self-employed in my early fifties and then the opportunities to waste or make time expanded beyond recognition. So, amongst other things, along came regular visits to the gym, squash, photography, writing, painting and more travel. And I finished that novel.


Sometimes I failed, of course. The novel wasn’t good enough. Sometimes I was just not suitable material for a job I wanted or rich or courageous enough to try a new venture. And there are things I am still saying to myself that I will do one day, like learning to play a musical instrument, which merely shows how difficult it is to follow my own advice. There will come a time when I will regret not having learned. Some things I refused to do irrespective of the regret, like jumping out of a plane or off a bridge while tied to the end of a rope. But then the regrets are so minimal I’m not sure they count.


In recent years there have been a plethora of books about ‘seizing the moment’ and the ‘power of now’. They seem to argue roughly along the following lines: the past has gone so there’s no point in worrying about it, the future hasn’t yet arrived so concerning yourself about that is equally pointless. Thus the only thing left is ‘now’ so use it to your fullest ability. Though ‘now’ is the point, this idea overstates the issue. Neither the past nor the future is irrelevant. We are made entirely of the past, built from our experiences and our psychology. The decisions we make ‘now’ can only be as a result of our pasts and we shouldn’t fool ourselves that we have limitless potential to fulfil any decision we wish. The future has not yet occurred but we can influence it to an extent by the decisions we make ‘now’. We shouldn’t hold on to past mistakes nor suffer anxieties over future uncertainties. But we should recognise that decisions made ‘now’ are coloured and shaped by both the past and the future.


Unfortunately, as we get older, the number of ‘nows’ available, to do or to plan things, diminishes so, although it becomes all the more vital to ensure the minutes left are not thrown away, we can’t do everything. We may simply have to shrug our shoulders at tasks not achieved. But, personally, if I waste the years to come, though I’ll never resort to selling rubber balls I might just as well have. We ‘wrinklies’ have nothing to lose but our time. On our last day here it will all be too late. ‘Now’ is all that we’ll have left.

Michael R Chapman
~ master of none ~
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