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

Time Out of Time

My watchband has changed from a lovely pink to an at-best beige/brown, the results of oxidation and, um, time. So Sunday afternoon finds me heading down Columbus Avenue, coincidentally and appropriately the first day of Daylight-Saving Time, on my way to purchase a new watchband. It's spring, and I should feel lighter, and should be "springing forward," now that we've moved the clocks forward, but instead I feel as if I'm lumbering along. My daughter threw a party at our house last night, and doors were mysteriously opening and closing until 2 in the morning. I refused to get out of bed to take a look - not only had I already removed my make-up but I tend to side with ostriches and I think the head-in-the-sand approach to life works quite well. I woke up early to take my son to his ice hockey game, and thus it is that I'm feeling farbludgeoned and thinking dark thoughts about Daylight-Savings Time.

I come by my grumpiness honestly. I'm from Indiana where Daylight-Savings Time has been almost as contentious an issue as gun control and abortion. In the 1970s following the oil embargo, Daylight-Saving Time was mandated across the country to save energy, the theory being that people would use less electricity in the evenings if it were still light outside, and I recall many loud arguments from my relatives about how stupid it was to wake up at 7 in the morning when the sun had been up for hours, and to go to bed when the sun had barely gone down. The chickens didn't know it wasn't time for them to get up, and the cows have to be milked no matter what the clock says, so what kind of nonsense and stupidity is it, government interfering in nature? (Paraphrasing my farm family) Three years ago Indiana joined 47 other states (Arizona and Hawaii have no need of an extra hour of sunlight) and began observing Daylight Saving Time. Grumpily.

Time is weird. Scientists and philosophers and theologians and ordinary folks from Indiana have long grappled with what it is and how you measure it and what it means and why there doesn't seem to be enough of it or why it goes so slowly sometimes but rushes by at others. The awareness that there is a past, present and future, that there is a beginning and an inevitable ending, birth and death and a limited amount of time in between, is specific, apparently, to human beings. Without time, everything would be one big mush, happening simultaneously. It's the planets and the heavens, light and dark, that allow for the possibility of time, or at least our perception of time. And light is as inscrutable, luminous, mysterious and elusive as time - it weighs nothing and goes by quickly, faster than anything in the universe. Like time. So who can blame us for trying to harness time, subdue it, make it cough up the most it can for us? Who can blame us for wanting to feel as if we're holding onto more of it at the end of the day, even if we know we simply took an hour from the morning and transferred it to the evening?

Yet, even if I intellectually tell myself this one hour is not a big deal, my body is not happy that its circadian rhythm (24 hour cycle) is being messed with and is rebelling against it, which is why I am so cranky and philosophical (two traits that often go hand in hand). I feel as if I'm jet-lagged, trying to hang onto the tail of the universe as it leaps forward an hour. It's exposure to light that resets our bodies when traveling across time zones, and I read once that not only are we affected by external light, but there are cells on the backs of our knees which contain light receptors and if flashlights are shined upon them in flight, jet lag is reduced. So I guess time is embedded in both the vastness of the universe and in the tiniest composition of the human body. Pretty cool, to be a part of the Big Clock.

It's the Bible that proposed the philosophical idea of time which we live by in the west. According to Genesis, at one time there was no time. It wasn't until God created the lights in the firmament of heaven to divide day from night that seasons and days and years and time as we know it came into being. Before that, well, who knows? Chaos.

But the Bible imbued time with a quality it had never before contained: holiness. Until then, places were holy and people were holy, but time? The word kadosh, holy, is first mentioned in the Bible in reference to time: "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy." Though intangible, time was set apart from the other six days to withdraw from the world, and to let God into our lives.

My cell phone rings. It's my 15-year-old son, Daniel. He tells me he's going to see the birds. For a half second, I hesitate. He has a lot of homework, piano practice, a shower would be good ... but not only am I on a very long streak of not saying no to my children, but what the heck? I understand needing to withdraw from the world on a regular basis and create a time out of time. Okay, I say. Whenever he has time (and even when he doesn't have time) he volunteers at the bird store on Amsterdam Avenue. He spends hours in the partitioned off area where the parrots and macaws fly about and squawk. He gives them toys, plays with them, socializes them and protects the new parrots from the bullies. They sit on his head, his shoulders or on his shoes. One hangs upside down by its feet from the two strings on Daniel's zip-up jacket. When Daniel comes home from the birds, he is shocked that it's so late. It felt as if he was in there only 20 minutes but it's been hours!

Now, "day is declining, the shadows of evening grow long" (Biblical language for late afternoon), and I have bought my new, pink, exiting-the-darkness-of-winter watchband and am sallying toward home. I like my watch, not least because it's pink. I like it because it's not a soulless digital watch with cold numbers that display 5:47; in fact, there are no numbers at all on my watch, just four dots to mark 3, 6, 9 and 12. I like it because it has hands that tick slowly, poetically in that circular, sunrise/sunset motion of life.

For the record, not only did Daylight-Saving Time not save money on energy in the three years since it was instituted in Indiana, but a recent study of households in southern Indiana found that there was about a 1% increase in electricity usage, and electricity bills went up $9 million dollars per year. If I know my Hoosiers, then this fact both makes them feel self-righteous and smug, but also - grumpy.

This essay was originally published at