It’s Sunday evening. The half-lit sun is slipping over the edge of the mountain as I cut carrots in my kitchen. Chop. I force my knife through a particularly stubborn carrot and notice how the serrated edge has carved little tracks on the orange disc, looking almost like a plowed and planted garden waiting on its harvest to emerge.
Butter is slowly melting in the bottom of the dutch oven on the stovetop, and I wonder what it must feel like to take my time. To slowly become, or unbecome in the butter’s case.
Everything feels so fast. I don’t have to tell you that. We live in the same fast-paced world with the same fast-occurring issues and fast-forming opinions. You know as well as I do that nothing takes its time.
The carrot that I’m chopping took its time. Eighty-ish days ago, a farmer planted some seeds in the ground. He didn’t do it by hand; they have equipment for that now. But nevertheless, he planted them. And he waited for eighty days to see if what he’d planted had actually become anything. Of course, about ten days in, small sprouts popped up above the dirt to assure him that everything was going according to plan beneath the surface. But still, eighty days. Eighty days to know if his work would come of anything. Eighty days to see the fruit of his labor.
I can’t even wait eighty seconds for the butter to melt before I take out my wooden spoon and push the yellow lump around in the pot, hoping it’ll somehow melt faster. I do this until all that’s left is a yellow liquid waiting for something to be done with it.
In go the carrots and the onion. I wait again for the onions to turn translucent and the carrots to soften. I stir. And I stir again, wielding my spoon like a wand and willing the vegetables to do as I please, even though, of course they will not.
The vegetables vibrate in the bottom of the pot, and I stir them enthusiastically, ready for the next step — spices. All I need are two bay leaves, half a teaspoon of thyme, and four cloves of garlic diced. Garlic. Oh yes, I forgot the garlic.
It takes a few minutes to strip the cloves from their skins. Once I have, I press my knife, a different one than before, onto each one until they shift and crack under the pressure. Then I dice. And I hurry because this should have been done ages ago and how was I dumb enough to forget the garlic.
It goes in with the other spices. And I stir now only because the recipe told me to, not because I’m hurrying. And I congratulate myself. This is what it means to take one’s time. I look over my slightly tilted nose, happy with myself because in the one minute that I have stirred this pot, I’ve managed to master patience. Time is no enemy of mine.
I let the garlic simmer as I prepare to pour in the broth. The sizzling fades as liquid splashes into the bottom of the pot and sends vegetables swirling until they settle once again. Then it’s time to wait, this time for the liquid to simmer. Perhaps patience has not been mastered after all.
So for now, I take out my phone and I scroll and I scroll and I wait for something to happen as I see what is happening to everybody else.
Moments later, I check the pot and find myself frustrated. Not simmering yet. So I crank up the heat and demand that it does, and I think about how long it took to defrost the chicken and how long it took to chop the carrots and. . . . What was all that hurrying for? Just to sit here. Waiting for time to pass.
And indeed, whether I like it or not, there will be time. There is time. Too much of it and too little of it all at once. On normal days, I do nothing but complain that there isn’t enough time for me to do all the things I swore I’d do. Or if it is enough time, then there isn’t enough energy. But today, when my energy is sufficient (after my afternoon nap), and I have a surplus of time on my hands, all I do is make chicken soup and complain that it’s taking too long as if I had something else to do.
I hear movement in the pot. As the liquid bubbles, once-white shards of onion float effervescently to the surface to alert me that they have finished cooking. It’s time to put the chicken in.
When I check the pot mere seconds later, the chicken has already begun to turn white on the outside, and suddenly I’m glad. I’ve nearly made it to the end of the recipe and somehow managed to make up for lost time.
It’s a silly notion — lost time. It insinuates that time can be found. I know we use that phrase: “I found some time to do __________.” But it’s not like I could be strolling along down the sidewalk and see a loose time lying on the pavement, waiting for some lucky person to pocket it. I couldn’t drop it in my piggy bank to save it for a day when I’m late for work or when an unprepared-for due date suddenly arrives.
Time marches on, unaware that it has been lost or found or too quick or too slow. We are the changing factors. It’s our unreliability, our refusal to sit still and then our desire for stillness when things seem to be moving too fast, that makes time our enemy. It’s the same logic a child uses when he, knowing what bees do, chases one in his backyard yet is surprised when it actually stings him. Time does what it was created to do — to consistently tick on. Time doesn’t change; we do.
And that’s the very reason we find it so oppressive. It reminds us of our inconsistency, our unreliability, our recklessness. We hate it because we realize we’re the ones at fault. The ones who fail to fit into the form. The ones who neglect to do what we were created to do. Time is not our adversary; we are.
And yet, even with this logic, I still fail to think correctly about time. I still try to find it or worry about losing it. But I never allow myself to enjoy it, to sit beneath the turning wheel of stars that neither worry whether they have arrived too late or too early.
Before I know it, it’s time to add the noodles. Salt and pepper. Soup is done. I hear footsteps on the stairs.
“Whatever you’re making smells great.”
“Thanks. I’m sorry it took longer than I expected. I bet you’re starving.”
“It’s fine. I lost track of time anyway.”
We sit, each with a bowl in front of us. I watch him through the steam rising from my bowl as he crumbles a couple saltines into his, and I do the same. Minutes later, we clear away the dishes, and I pour more soup into tupperware for lunch the next day.
“Thank you for taking the time for this. It was delicious.” He kisses me on the temple and walks away, not knowing the effect his words have had on me.
I look down in the pot in front of me, full of the fruits of my labor that I took my time for. And I think, did I really take my time? What would it be like if I had? If I had watched the onions assume a golden, transparent hue as the butter and the carrots melded with them in the pot. If I had waited with anticipation to smell the spices gradually mingling. If I had left the temperature alone, allowed nature to do its job and nourish me in her own time. Would I feel differently if I had accepted the consistency and relished in its stillness?
As I stare into the pot beneath me, I search out a carrot and find one. It somehow didn’t succumb to the heat or the incessant stirring. It’s still round, but now it bends between my finger and my thumb. If I look intently enough, I can still see the little rows created by my knife’s serrated edge. And I imagine that time does the very same to us, slowly etching its mark onto our lives. It is evidenced physically by lines that appear beside the eyes or on the brow or upon the backs of the hands. But more deeply still, time carves us out within, demanding we do what we were created to do, to be content beneath the spinning of the stars.