05/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Legacy and the Gift of Time


Fast on the heels of receiving our names, our first legacy (that plays a role of shaping who we will become), comes another, perhaps even more influential: time.

In her powerful new book, Time, Eva Hoffman writes about how she was severed from time as she experienced it growing up in Communist Eastern Europe when her family emigrated. She found herself "on the other side of a great divide" where time informed being and consciousness entirely differently.

"...our basic vision of time...
established quite early...and
the cultural and historical
context we arrive into."
- Eva Hoffman

It was the first time I'd ever considered that our perception of time is not universal, but that how we understand time profoundly impacts who we are and values we unconsciously pass on to future generations. Consider common statements used in our culture: "Time is money;" "Time marches on;" "Time is precious; don't waste it;" "Time flies." We're less attuned to: "Take time to smell the roses."

We do our best to control time: We manipulate time seasonally, changing our clocks to live by daylight savings time or standard time. We count as progress reducing the hours in the "work week." We sacrifice sacred time, the Sabbath, to have stores open for convenient shopping and for our economy. We fly through time zones medicating our bodies to reduce "jet lag" when we tamper with our bodies' natural relationship with time.

"...our existence is but
a brief crack of light
two eternities of darkness."
- Vladimir Nabokov

Religions create their own calendars, marking time by the sun, the moon, or a combination, and celebrate the new year at inexplicable times from the perspective of our Gregorian calendar. Some traditions are concerned with "the end of times;" others teach letting go of the past and future to experience the eternal present -- the essence of mindfulness.

"Attitudes to time
can have far-reaching implications for the ways we live,
for forms of sensibility,
and for the tenor
and textures of experience."
- Eva Hoffman

Cultures respond to time constraints differently: consider our mores about punctuality and our judgments about those less concerned about being "on time." (Do you prefer train travel in Italy or Germany?) I recommend reading Peter Hessler's fascinating Oracle Bones to learn about time as experienced by the Chinese.

Some Suggestions for Action:

  1. Begin with an exploration about time, using Eva Hoffman's challenge "to become more intimate with time, to ask how it shapes our lives, and what may be our happiest dealings with it; and also to discover--insofar as possible--what philosophical fortification may be gained against its invisible laws and inevitable passage." I suggest free-flowing journaling for no more than 15 minutes for as many days as you find something to write on the topic.
  2. Then read through your journal to extract your "time stories," stories that taught you something important.
  3. Write a letter to someone to share your story and your learning about the impact of time on your life. (Again, write your letter in no more than 15 minutes)
  4. Return to your journal, and write for five minutes about your experience writing. (I call this "Process Notes").
  5. Mail or give this "letter" to the person to whom it was written at an appropriate time, perhaps when time is having an important impact on their life.

Steps 3-5 can be repeated as you continue to increase your awareness and learning about the legacy of time.

May you take time to reflect and write about time, and may all your legacy letters be cherished by your readers,
~ Rachael Freed

You can find out more about communicating and preserving your legacy (ethical will) at Email:

Rachael Freed has published several works including Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations and Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient. She is currently working on Harvesting the Wisdom of Our Lives: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide for Seniors and Their Families. Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator, and legacy consultant. Her home is Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more information, visit and

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