Select Page

Time and Labor Day

Bill Benson

September 8, 2020

On a calm summer day in 1823, in northwest South Dakota, a mountain man named Hugh Glass experienced absolute terror when he stumbled across a she-grizzly bear and her two cubs. He was alone. She stood on her hind legs, swatted his rifle away, then his pistol, but he held tight to his knife.

Few of us will ever experience first-hand a fright of this magnitude, a life-and-death wrestle with a hot, mad mother grizzly bear.

The author Federick Manfred described in his book “Lord Grizzly” how at that instant Hugh’s sense of time felt twisted, distorted. “Time stiffened, poured like cold molasses.” “Time poured slow–yet was fast.” “Time poured slow–yet space was quick.”

That may be true, but we will leave those thoughts to the physicists.

I know that when I was young, time moved slow. I was seven for a long, long time, then eight for a long time, then nine, and so on, but in my 30s, time gathered speed, ran ahead, and now it sprints and refuses to slow up. For human beings, time’s speed is relative to our age.

Yet, time slows down when confronted with a distasteful job. For some, work at a desk is a torture, for others work outside is painful. When we dislike work, the hours seem sluggish, stuck in low gear.

In recent days, a guy explained to me that he discovered at an early age he had little aptitude for work on his dad’s farm. He disliked the smell of grease, oil, diesel, gasoline. He groaned when he saw dust covering iron machinery, when he heard the tractor’s roar, when he felt the heat and wind.

Instead, he trained for work inside, at a desk, more his style, and has enjoyed a successful career.

Yet others would find that species of work misery-producing. A desk, a chair, a computer, pencil lead smudges, legal pads, eraser, files, spreadsheets, and a telephone would cause some to suffer an anxiety attack, a breakdown. They would run outside, flee the scene, break free.

The calendar says that Labor Day just recently passed. Our challenge as workforce employees is to find work that we enjoy, that we feel attracted to, that motivates us to strive with all of our strength, like wrestling with a grizzly bear. You and I feel better after we have worked hard.

When our skills, training, and inner desires match our work, time speeds up, shifts into high gear.

Shakespeare thought about this correlation between aptitude, work, and time. He wrote, “Pleasure and action make the hours seem short.” “Time travels in divers paces with divers persons.”

He also observed the regrets that men or women feel, after they have abused time. “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” “We are time’s subjects, and time bids be gone.” “We have seen better days.” “O call back yesterday, bid time return.” We can ask, but we can never get back one yesterday.

Shakespeare noticed time’s connection to setting wrongs right. “And thus the whirligig of the time brings in his revenges.” “Time is the justice that examines all offenders.”

He also pointed out that time inflicts wounds on those who commit crimes. Macbeth murders the Scottish king Duncan to seize the throne for himself, but the guilt he feels racks his conscience. He loses his wife, Lady Macbeth, who pushed him into the crime, and now he mourns the mess he created.

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools, The way to dusty death.”

Macbeth sees little hope when he peers forward into his future days, only a series of tomorrows that step forward, “in a petty pace.” It is no wonder that he laments that, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”

Time is the substance of life. We measure it out in minutes, hours, and days. Weekdays we give our eight, nine, or more hours to our employers, our bosses, and in return we receive back dollars that we exchange for food, clothing, and shelter for our families. It is life’s deal. We work, then we eat.

Ralph Waldo Emerson noticed that over time, as the present slips into the past, we collect things called memories that accumulate together into a body of thought called wisdom. He said, “The years teach much which the days never know.” In other words, he says, wisdom grows out of experience.

As for Hugh Glass, he stabbed that she-grizzly again and again until she dropped dead atop him. To survive, he crawled 160 miles, his arms pulling his body forward, his legs useless, back to Fort Kiowa on the Missouri River, below Pierre. Hardest work ever. Time poured slow for poor Hugh Glass.

Hope you enjoyed your day off from work on Monday, Labor Day.