A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned to me that whenever she started reading a book, she always finished it. No matter if the book was good, or bad, she always finished the book before starting another. The act of finishing the book was of greater importance to her than the lost hours of time spent on the task. I told her that I felt exactly the opposite. I feel that time spent on a task that reaps no reward is time misspent, and the older one gets, the more one starts to look for misspent hours. They are slices of time that cannot be returned to us.
I was thinking of this today – time and how we spend it, when I remembered an online article that I read some years back. It is one of those (very) few online pieces that has stuck with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t bookmark it, or I could share it here today.
The piece was written by an inmate on death row in Texas who was about to be executed. The article detailed the last 24 hours of the inmate’s life in excruciating detail. He described his transfer from his cell in one prison, to a cell outside of the death chamber in another. He described the food he ate, the people he talked to and the black and white television that was set up just outside of his cell, so he could entertain himself in his last hours. He described a table of snacks that was set up just beyond his cell and he described a final cigarette that was given to him by a kindly corrections officer. The detailed execution protocol commenced to the point of securing the inmate to the lethal injection gurney before the phone rang and it was announced that he had received a stay of execution. The inmate was returned to his cell, his date with death delayed.
I don’t know what happened to this inmate, nor do I want to begin a conversation about the pros and cons of capital punishment (so don’t even go there in the comments section). But what happened next made me stop and think. The inmate said that after he had been returned to his normal, day to day prison life, and he’d had time to reflect on his near execution, he came to see how the scripted execution protocol being followed by everyone involved in the event (if you can call it an event), was designed to distract all people involved from the actual execution. It was designed to fill every single minute until his death with an activity. Something to be signed, watched, written, eaten, smoked, drank or in some way sensory consumed. It was designed to keep everyone occupied so that there would be no time to consider what was really about to occur until after it occurred.
Few of us, apart from condemned prisoners, know the exact day and hour of our demise, but I do wonder how much time we spend upon meaningless pursuits as the clock ticks down. Are we all guilty of time misspent? Will we wish to retrieve portions of it one day? Are we too involved in social media (an easy target, I know), pointless relationships, unfulfilling tasks, or reading uninspiring books? Have we all fallen into the twenty first century ‘protocol’ of life? That is what I am thinking today. As always, your comments are welcome.