Wednesday, February 29, 2012

For Whom the Bells Tolled

The Earth takes 365.256363 solar days to revolve around the sun.  Only today, on Leap Day, do we notice the extra quarter of a day we accumulate each year.  It's got me thinking about the irrelevancy of the calendar in the grand scheme of things.  Living our lives according to seasons and daylight hours rather than the calendar and clocks might be a refreshing change.  I realize it's not practical for an "advanced" civilization like ours, but wouldn't it be nice to rise with the sun rather than with the alarm clock?  Wouldn't it be nice to plan your life around your core survival rather than a Monday-Friday work schedule?

I saw an eagle at the top of a large tree on my way to school this morning.  The eagle schedules its day around its survival:  it wakes with the morning light, feeds when it's hungry, seeks shelter when it's cold, and roosts when it's dark.  When life gets complicated, I envy the simplicity of mere survival.

Throughout most of my life, a school bell dictated my daily, weekly, and yearly schedules.  As a student for seventeen years and as a teacher for eight years, my comings and goings were directed by a strict bell system.  My school day began with a bell ring at 8:09 am and was followed by bells throughout the entire school day signaling the beginning and end of each period.  My lunch break and bathroom break began and ended with bells.  Another bell signaled the end of my workday.  A bell signaled the start and end of each school year, and bells book-ended the start and finish of spring and winter recesses. 

I didn't realize how restrictive this bell-controlled life was until I left it.  Bells no longer direct my comings and goings these days; my life is now run by a bell-less system set up by my own devices.  I start my day when I need to and work until my work is done.  I eat lunch when I'm hungry, use the bathroom when needed, and sleep when I'm tired.  Within a given year, I work as hard if not harder now than I did when teaching, but the absence of bells dictating my schedule throughout the day provides a freedom that many people take for granted.

Another big change that came with my recent career change involves my time outdoors.  As a student and teacher, much of my day took place in a climate controlled building under depressing fluorescent lights.  During the winter months, I would arrive at school before the sun broke the horizon and not get back home before the sun set.  During this time, the only chance I had to be outdoors was on trips between my car and the high school entrance.  There were many nights when I had an overwhelming urge to take a walk around the neighborhood just to get a breath of fresh air, feel a breeze against my cheek, take in the scent of rotting leaves, and feel some fleeting connection to nature. 

Nowadays, I'm outside for at least ten hours most days--rain, shine, snow, hot, or cold.  My days are now very heliocentric; they're highly influenced by the number of daylight hours and the tilt of the Earth's axis.  This new exposure to the outdoors is a refreshing change.  It keeps me in touch with the phenology of nature, which doesn't always follow a strict schedule based on the Gregorian calendar.  Rather than anticipating the weekend or counting down the days until summer break on the school calendar, I'm now anticipating the advent of spring, the last frost date, the arrival of Japanese beetles, the blooming of hydrangeas, and the first snowfall. 

Though I still hear the muted sound of recess bells tolling on the playground of the nearby elementary school as well as the hourly church bells on Main Street, I am happy to be living life in the absence of this hourly dictator. 

The bells no longer toll for me.

"Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today. It's been that way all this year. It's been that way so many times. All of war is that way." 

"There is only now and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you will never get, you will have a good life."  
                                                - Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls


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