The Great Escape

I circumvented time, only to make my way back.

By Erica Tasto

Their faces loom, a dozen numbers circling the edge, with two hands inching forward. Even beyond the conventional wrist or pocket watch, time is ubiquitous—constricting almost. The continuous ticking pressures us to hurry or judges us for being late. However, despite time’s pervasiveness and inevitable invasiveness, I’m convinced it offers us something we take for granted: freedom.

My planner, with its scribbles, to-do lists, and check marks helps me manage every scheduling nightmare. Various clocks keeps me rushing around each day, making sure I stick to the plan I’ve made. But what would it be like to escape my rigid schedule? Ignore time? Here we go.

Day One, Feb. 20: Every time I catch myself glancing at a clock, I uncrumple the piece of paper in my pocket and jot down the time and why I need to know. I peek at a clock a total of 38 times.  My surroundings make it easy: the familiar gleam of my cell phone screen, the bright red digits on my coffeemaker, and the reliable numbers on the dash of my Mazda.  Often I simply check the time out of habit. When I wake up, my cell phone’s glowing digital numbers orient me in the day; sometimes I check the clock to plan free time around my fixed schedule of school and work. Most times though, I just want to know if I am in step with the rest of the world.

But what if I didn’t know the time? Welcome to day two.

Day Two, Feb. 21: Guessing quickly turns to stressing. The night before, I reset all my clocks to an irrelevant time zone: Beijing time. When I wake up, I feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. I clean my room and do the dishes, watch TV, and shower, without staring down the hands of a clock. In theory this might make these activities—yes, even the dishes—more enjoyable. But instead of savoring the immeasurable pace of my day, I worry. Do I have time to curl my hair, eat breakfast, or drive to the bank? Will I make it to class on time, or be late meeting my friend for drinks? After more than 24 hours of literal timelessness, I call my best friend to beg for the correct time. She tells me it is 12:48 a.m., which means that I, with a relieved, palpable sigh, can reset my clocks and end my experiment.

Though time can limit the amount we accomplish in any given day, it also gives us the potential to plan. We may feel bound by ticks and tocks, but our ability to collectively measure time creates the freedom to make choices and set our own schedules. Without time, I functioned in relation to everything else around me. People, phone calls, and emails became my clues, a modern substitute for judging the hours of the day by the sun. I felt like I was 16 again, without a car, mooching rides with no control of how or when I could reach my destinations.

Strip away the numbers, the stress, and the commitments, and I realize I no longer want to escape time. Life is busy. It’s hectic. Clocks provide the best way to control time, and far more freedom is gained from embracing rather than hiding from them. In any case, it sure beats setting your clocks to a foreign time zone and fumbling through your day.