Alms for Oblivion


“The Walking Lesson” by Jacek Yerka

Back in my teaching days, I’d sometimes ask my students what they considered the worst invention in the history of mankind. Typical answers included gunpowder, nuclear weaponry, Whoopie cushions, etc.

I’d do my ol’ slow shake of sage educator’s head routine and admit that those contraptions were indeed pernicious but that the worst invention in mankind’s horrid history was the clock, which was a by-product of womankind’s worst discovery, agriculture.[1]


I’d go on and invite them to imagine a world without clocks, a world of delicious imprecision governed by states of light rather than the ticking of mechanical hands or the silent progression of illuminated digits.

Now that most of us have placed ourselves under house arrest, we can experience for a time an existence not governed by sixtieths – seconds, minutes, hours – especially if we don’t have children involved in distance learning.

Here’s a snippet from a Facebook post written by a former student of mine who suffers from an auto-immune disorder:

Oddly, as the next week took shape, with the kids out of school and the shutdown picking up steam, my anxiety eased. It wasn’t because I was less concerned about the virus and my potential exposure, but because so many other self-imposed stressors were instantly out of my life. Just like the pollution in Venetian canals seemingly cleared up after a short period of decreased activity, my mind seemed to clear up when we couldn’t race from work, to after school activities, sports practices, piano lessons, social commitments, and whatever else had previously cluttered my schedule. We couldn’t grab dinner on the go, and stopping in at the grocery store 3-4 times a week no longer made sense. We went on more walks and bike rides the week of March 16th than the previous six months. We watched the sunset each night from our back porch instead of driving 45 minutes to volleyball practice. We’ve had family meals almost every night. We’ve had family movie nights, and we haven’t missed a church service because our church quickly got online. We’ve reached out to friends over Facetime, text, or calls that we’ve not found time to connect with before. And we see others doing the same. In short order, despite a deadly threat, I was more relaxed than I’d been in a long time.

Yes, the world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, and as Ulysses points out to Achilles in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, “Time hath, me Lord, a wallet at his back/Wherein he puts alms for oblivion.”

No telling what will follow this pestilence — recession, depression, repression, armed insurrection?  I dunno.  What I do know is that my coffee cup is empty and that there’s a bottle of Jameson’s on the kitchen counter.  I think I’ll have another cup sweetened by another dollop and enjoy this beautiful mid-April morning while the getting’s good.


[1] Most anthropologists posit that pre-agrarian female gatherers put two and two together regarding seeds and soil, which would explain the Pandora and Eden myths. Hunting’s fun. Plowing desert soil not so much. It’s all her fault.


2 thoughts on “Alms for Oblivion

  1. 60 is actually a really good number to have picked for an interval. What they should have done, though, is take a few days from January and March to give to February. Then, by rearranging a day from November with May, you’d have an even 30 for the first half of the year, and 31 for the second. S o, the calendar is actually a pretty even, as well. Maybe this is the reason for using 60.

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