“In the Interest of Time”

Something happened the other day. As I was sitting in class, listening to the professor talk about traditional dances in various provinces of Spain, I looked above the board and saw that it was 9:33 a.m.

And that was the problem. After months of painfully bare walls, suddenly there it was, this small but glaring clock. I could practically sense it revelling in its newfound authority, the anxiously awaited response to every ambivalent student counting down the minutes left in class.

Tick-tock, 9:41. I glanced up again—Still 9:41. The minute hand made slow laps around and around. Later, 9:54. Okay clock, like I don’t know what has two hands but no arms; I still see you. Class ended at 10, the last five minutes stretching on unendingly. And I was painfully aware of it all the while.

When I started class in September, one of the first things I noticed was the lack of clocks. Not a single classroom or hallway had a clock. How did anyone survive!? I was bothered. And it bothered me that I was bothered.

I realized how I was in the habit of sitting in class constantly aware of how much time had passed, how much was left, and what other calculated restraints filled my day. A day naturally divided by sunrise and sunset becomes an indeterminable amount of frames whose progress is measured with every tick of the hand. While I can miraculously manage to master subjunctive verb tenses, I repeatedly fail to understand that an hour is always 60 minutes no matter how one looks at the clock —unless, of course, I’m frantically finishing a research paper due in an hour, then it’s much less.

Of course the lack of clocks displayed may well have been an oversight, a problem that the school had always been planning to fix, although they clearly weren’t too concerned about a timeframe. Even so, the rigidity of time and schedules seems a lot less intertwined with society here than in the United States, at least from what I’ve observed. Certainly punctuality is less important, and the American philosophy of time as money and productivity, linguistically evident in how we express time as a function of how it is “spent,” is much less pervasive as well.

Because of this, I decided to learn to relax, to embrace that “no pasa nada,” the ever-familiar phrase heard after something doesn’t go as planned, assuring one not to worry. Everything is just fine. This also conveniently applies to being 45 minutes late for your car ride home from the airport as you repeatedly miscommunicate the meaning of the first versus the second floor while sprinting up and down the stairs. No problem.

As that relaxed mentality carried over into other facets of my life, I felt much more present and engaged in all of my commitments and social interactions, a presence that I didn’t know I lacked. That’s why it floored me so when one day a few weeks ago, every classroom had a clock. It feels distracting to me; I find myself glancing at it by habit, leaving me to constantly reference “felt time” with “real time” and trying to measure up.

The pressure to compare schedules, to insist that really, I’m so busy, let me tell you, doesn’t exist as a conversational trump card in the same way. As someone who easily becomes engulfed in timetables and micromanaging, it has been important to reevaluate what time means to me. Of course I still have classes and meetings to attend on time, but I am much more at ease with my use of time.

Whether I’m wasting time or feeling it fly by, the only concept of time I’m thinking about is appreciating what’s left of it here.