In Michael Ende’s fine children’s novel, Momo, an easygoing village is transformed into a world in which people become enslaved to the clock. Noonday naps became a thing of the past. Barbershop conversations were cut short. The Time Bandits had attacked, stealing time from the people and turning their calm, ordered, and happy world into a hurried nightmare.
Although Ende was German and wrote in a European context, his novel Momo especially applies to the United States. For over a century, large cities have been places where, “to get ahead” (of what?), people have worked long hours, having little time for pleasure or playing with their children or loving their spouses. I suppose that the situation may not be as bad in some rural areas–but I have seen the Time Bandits attack, the the result was not pretty. As a child, I often went with Granddaddy to the courthouse square in Murfressboro, Tennessee. Old men whittled cedar shavings and talked. They are gone now–they’ve been gone for years–and I miss them. Like the old men who used to gather in the rock store my Granddaddy and I used to visit after school when I was in first grade, these men were not enslaved by time. They knew that eventually they would no longer be on earth, but they enjoyed the company of their fellow men. They were not wasting time. The person with a $200,000+ salary who works eighty hours a week and ignores his family is wasting time and wasting away the best years of his life in work. Now work is necessary–God bless those people who have a sense of calling to a profession or trade. But work should not dominate one’s life and take the time needed to interact in a more than utilitarian way with other people. Even if a person is by himself, he can work in the garden or work on a hobby and not notice the specter of time chasing him. Those moments can be intimations of eternity. When I grow lima beans and crowder and black eyed peas, sometimes I take a break from “school stuff” and shell them on the porch. Those are moments for which I am grateful–those moments are “food for the soul.” During such moments, time is not wasted, but redeemed, and perhaps snatched from the hands of the “Time Bandits.” Don’t let them steal your time.