When I was little, my parents were always a bit baffled by the kid’s need for stuff. I never got the Keepers, the Boglins or the Gameboys that everyone else seemed to. (At least, that’s how I remember it. My little sister, who had an avalanche of cuddly toys, and a Tamagotchi that Dad queued for at 5am outside Toys-R-Us, might have a different take on things).
Tamagotchi aside, my parents never really cared about giving us things. But they cared so much about giving us experiences. I still remember the first concert Dad took me to. The way Mum showed me how to draw shoulders. Fireworks over Kenilworth Castle. Pink sand between my toes. Watching a foal being born. Stray cats gathering in the Spanish twilight.
My parents worked hard to give us these kinds of memories: and their work was also its own reward, because both of them were lucky enough to love what they did.
So, of course, I was always going to grow up to think that time is the most precious resource we get. Money comes, and generally goes (at least when I’m spending), and (hopefully) comes again, but time is the one thing you’ll never get back. None of us know how much of it we have. So use it doing something that makes your soul sing.
Because once our time’s up, our lives collapse into the past. When the book slams shut, all the pages kiss each other. All the moments of your life, being over, exist at the same time. You will always be five, tears prickling as your pencil won’t make the letters. You’ll always be seventeen, gazing out of the window at a face in your heart, not writing about Richard II (‘I have wasted time / And now doth time waste me.’) There will always be night falling over a strange old city, the future spreading unknowable against the sky. You’ll always be watching your baby’s fat feet jiggling in the high chair. Maybe you’ll always be half-listening for that voice you’ll never hear again, accidentally setting the table for two.
When I write, when I draw, time goes bendy, drooling like a Dali clock. There is no time, other than when the work is finished. Hours and minutes feel the same, or else I don’t feel them at all. Even now, even today.
It’s my birthday today. I have been given more years than many people, and my life has been bright with love, so much of it I can barely breathe at the blessing of it.
And I feel the debt to my dearest ones, who have shared their time, their faith, and their cash, so that I can spend mine doing this. I’m impatient to see the tiny green shoots I’m planting grown tall, branches stretching out to shelter us all, like the rowan tree Dad planted when I was born. But who knows how long that will take? And the only thing worse than wasting your time is wishing it away.
I can’t magic back the time others have so generously given me. And, right now, I don’t have any money. I can only pay forward their love by carrying on, step by step, word by word. Because, as Moloko used to sing, late at night in my tiny college room, the time is now.