Everyone has been so busy this year. Whether employed or unemployed, married with kids or single, a bohemian artist or one of Leo’s people who get up in the morning – everyone is extremely busy. Meetings with friends and neighbours are, more often than not, quick chats about how rushed we are. There is always something to be getting on with. Even our leisure time seems fraught with timing. It’s as if setting a frantic pace for ourselves as we go through our frenzied, frazzled day is the only way we can cope with the myriad things we try and squeeze into too little time.
A woman once told me about her mother, who had reared 12 children on a dairy farm. She shook her head in disbelief, but swore that she had never seen her mother rushing. How could that be possible, we both marvelled?
I find this very troubling. After thirty years of child-rearing, I am finally Master of my time. No more school runs, birthday parties to get to, babysitting to arrange, or back-to-school financial chasms to navigate. And yet I too seem to have less time. I can remember taking a rake of children to the beach, or on some adventure, while also writing a novel, working part-time, and keeping the house from falling apart and the land from growing over the house and swallowing us whole. I also baked bread and cupcakes. And yet now that my time is all mine, I find it difficult to take a whole day and just go to the beach on my own. Is my memory playing tricks on me? Did I really have more time, or does it just seem that way in retrospect?
Another thing that I find troubling is that this sense of fleeting time is familiar. It’s why I moved to West Cork n the first place. I wanted to stop being frantically busy. Time was slower in West Cork. That was the real magic of living here. To see it speed up on my doorstep is disconcerting to say the least.
I had been pondering this dilemma in the back of my mind for most of the summer. It simmered away as I agonised over why I couldn’t find the time to go for a swim, or have a picnic on the beach any more. Had I changed, or was it Time itself that had changed? More importantly, how could I slow down?
The answer hit me a few Sundays ago. I was rushing to get us to a friend’s house for a BBQ. I was late because I had decided to bake a banana bread to bring and had to wait for it to be done. I herded my companion, and our American visitor into the car muttering about how I should have baked yesterday. The friend’s house is only a few miles away. There is an excellent back road that winds its way in an almost straight line east from my house to theirs. As I took off across country I saw that I needed petrol, but knew that I’d be fine, as I wasn’t going very far. I can manage at least 20 miles with the light on. Though I had not taken the road for several years, it seemed pretty straightforward. I wasn’t really paying attention as I drove. My mind was occupied with being late and needing petrol. It didn’t see the landscape. It didn’t see the sky, or the cows, or the smudged outline of the mountains in the distance. I took a wrong turn, tried to correct for it, turned again and found myself lost. What should have been a ten-minute journey was stretching to 45 minutes. Our visitor was ecstatic about the magical fairyland surrounding us and took pictures, as I grumbled about my petrol tank. Her mention of fairies reminded me of the Miscean Mara, which is said to be caused by the faeries playing tricks and getting travellers lost. I told our visitor about the pesky fairies and how they had not played tricks on me for years. Before I got any further in fairy lore, my companion took his jacket off, turned it inside out and put it back on. I barely had enough time to explain to our American visitor that it was a way to break the fairy spell by making them laugh, when looking up I saw a standing stone on a hill. I could almost hear them giggling. A few dozen yards down a winding boreen and I was back on the main road not far from my friend’s house. I was delighted. The magic is still out there. You just have to let yourself get lost in it.