My husband always says he doesn’t know whether time-management techniques are ineffective and harmless — or purely evil.  I have no idea.

But this morning, I used what I think of as the only time-management tool in my arsenal.  I did the task I least wanted to do: I filled out my father’s application forms for his new assisted-living facility.

Doing it reminded me of cleaning out the small apartment where he lived in West Texas after Mother died.  Here were the physical remnants of a long life — articles he’d clipped, notes he’d jotted to himself, tax returns, photos, postcards, letters, certificates, awards, diplomas.  In the end, what we leave behind is so meager.  The phrase that kept running through my mind was, “Vanity, vanity.  All is vanity.”  I have no idea where the phrase came from — literature?  The Bible?  The Reader’s Digest? — but it kept repeating in my mind like a song that won’t go away.  I’m not even sure what the phrase (profound? nonsensical?  random?) meant to me.  Except: We live and we hold some things and qualities and give them value; then we leave without them, one way or the other, and what remains is so slight and forlorn without us to give them meaning.

Oh, jeez.  I’m not even sure I’m making sense.  It’s just so sad to fill out details of my father’s life — his place of birth, his hobbies, his religious preference — trying to describe the essence of another human being whom I knew somewhat but really didn’t know at all.

This particular morning came on the heels of a 25-hour day after daylight savings time ended (I always prefer falling back to springing forward).  I noticed my husband had already changed most of our clocks — the stove, the kitchen clock, the microwave, the upstairs alarm clock — to the proper hour.  This is a job he hates and gripes about twice a year when he has to move the timepieces up or back.  But this year, he’d hardly grumbled.

Then I heard a crackle and the electricity went off for half an hour or so.  I called the city, then all the lights went back on and the appliances started to hum once again.  It occurred to me that boy, my husband’s going to be really hacked when he has to reset our clocks once again.  It also occurred to me that this is symbolic of all sorts of things, like the endless pushing of rocks up that eternal mountain.  But today isn’t one of those days I want to tackle any more symbolism than I have to. 

(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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