On Time

Being late was one of the few things that upset my father.

Eleven thirty means eleven o’clock and it could mean ten thirty too. If it would take thirty minutes to get to your destination and you needed to arrive at eleven thirty, mere mortals would leave at eleven. But not Dad; it would mean the chance of being late and that was like a synchronized sin and a major error in judgment.

Being late was like cheering for the Yankees instead of the Mets or voting for the Republicans instead of the Democrats. It is just something that a Slater didn’t do although the irony of having the word later in my last name was never lost on me. Dad’s idea of arriving at eleven thirty meant to arrive at eleven…just in case. Could be traffic…could have a problem…someone might show up before you.

I remember hearing a story about my mother's best friends from Philadelphia...Rita and Stanley Laderman. Stanley Laderman was my father's contemporary and he too had the same time sickness as did his father. If Stanley and his father planned to meet at eleven, Stanley would arrive at ten thirty. His father would have been there at ten and would ask why are you late?

Like many of us, we absorb this part of our family DNA post birth- the nature/nurture thing. During a recent visit to New Jersey for my father’s unveiling, I waited with my mom for the time to leave for the cemetery. I knew that the memorial service at the grave would start at 1pm and that it would take about 40 minutes to arrive. I was driving and with GPS, confident we could find this distant location and didn’t expect traffic on a Sunday.

Sitting patiently on the sofa I thought WWJD. Yes, what would Jack do…when would he leave. I guessed that leaving at noon made sense since a 40 minute drive would give us plenty of time to arrive. However, with Slater blood running through my veins, I guessed that by eleven forty five am mom would be anxious and ready to go. At eleven forty I could see the look in Mom’s eyes saying your father would be leaving now and that all too familiar “let’s go”.  And so we departed.

Time is a funny thing.

I have embodied this need to be everywhere early and not to keep others waiting knowing that on some deep psychological level it was about pleasing my parents. Yet, it seems so unfair, even a year after my father’s passing, that his sense of being early included leaving this world way too soon. Why couldn’t you be late…just this once? At age 82, there was so much more to live for and to do.

Being present and working hard to live in the moment means that you truly understand that all you have is right now…this instant. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow becomes a new now. It is hard to be present in this very moment. It’s a Zen thing and I don’t really get it but it’s something I have always tried to do because I know how quickly moments slip away. I think this is a reason why I love photography so much because you get to hold on to something that happens in 1/250th of a second forever.

In my own family, my wife and kids have learned to live with my sense of time knowing that I will always want to be early for trips to the airport or any event we are attending. Hearing both Mom and Dad’s voice in my head always being first to the movies, the synagogue or the school play was a badge of honor they both strived for since it allowed them to get the best seat. In my house, I picked up a phrase from a TV show to describe to everyone what I meant when I said we would leave at seven pm for dinner. A.I.S. Asses in seats. We would depart at A.I.S. seven pm. It was precise and everyone understood that like a drug addict, I was addicted to being on time. Luckily they understood my sickness and gave balance to my minute madness. I can hear my father laughing as he glances at some type of other worldly watch he gets to use now where time doesn't matter.

In the typical rushed life we live in the 21st century, It is such a pleasure to find blocks of time where I can sit quietly and just be without the need to accomplish something. do something or be something. Just to sit and breathe and sit still. It forces me to truly feel streams of emotion as they rush in and out as if I were a screen door where the energy can flow in and out never staying within. It is so hard to do but it is also so important for my health, my head and my heart.

During my recent visit to New Jersey, Mom was frustrated that the kitchen clock built into the wall wasn’t working. It was an old clock that must be hard wired to an electric circuit since I don’t think it had a battery powering it. It sits above the kitchen sink and has been watched for twenty years or more by my parents just waiting for one of them to say, "time to go". One morning during this visit my mother told me that she had gotten up on a step stool with something- maybe a spatula and urged the hands of time along to get it started again. Talk about a metaphor.

I was sorry she tried to fix it. I was enjoying time standing still in the house I grew up in and a kitchen I love so much filled with a lifetime of memories and measured moments. If only we could stop time and slow down enough to truly live in each moment. It occurred to me how hard it is to be truly alive and aware of the preciousness of every second of life. The gifts that we are given that are so easy to lose sight of as we worry about the hours and minutes of each day.

On time is what has been programmed into my inner ticking since I was young. Today I realize how beautiful a broken clock can be since you get to arrive at right now…without the seconds passing away. It is like a second chance.

I guess timing is everything. Dad, I wish it wasn't time for you to go.

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