Thief of precious time


Precious is defined as “having great value, much beloved.”

Many a poet and humanist philosopher has told us how precious our quiet moments are. Today the enforced quiet is disturbed by the fear of impending danger and uncertainty.

With the world now having a million coronavirus infections and 50,000 deaths creeping upon us, we struggle to hold on to some 100 cases and six deaths – and rising.

While television solves uncertainty, there is surplus space to reflect on how we use our time, what the world may be coming to, what we could do better and what we will do after this pandemic ends. If it ends. The pandemic compels us to think of the many things we had to do but didn’t. Procrastination stole our precious time.

We now have time to dream of having our party politics less adversarial, and of PM Dr Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar standing side by side advising the nation in its hour of viral crisis.

We have time to reflect on stress-driven diabetes, humanity’s vulnerability and the maddening rush that dominates our fragile lives. Archbishop Jason Gordon gave us a reminder. The virus takes us out of our grave, he preached.

My own mind lingers on things I should have done. There are two manuscripts on my desk for almost five years – regrettably, unfinished – one on public policy and crime, the other on relative deprivation, equality and crime. Other things “came up.”

I know this is a common problem for university people. But why can’t we get done all that is required?

Today I worry about the death of a very dear friend and university colleague, Prof Jack Quarter, of my alma mater, University of Toronto. I worry because since the year began I promised myself to call or send him a greeting e-mail. But every time I appeared before the computer, there were many other things that came up. Other things?

For several months, he did not call. Niether did I. When I e-mailed him last Monday, what I saw instead shocked me. Instead of the happy face I was accustomed to see, there was a university biography celebrating his life’s work. He died last year at 79. And I didn’t call before. Why?

Other things came up. I recall Wilfred Best’s famous Student Companion proverb: procrastination is the thief of time.

During my graduate years, Jack and I became very good friends. He was also my PhD thesis supervisor. On graduation, with his recommendation I got teaching offers from several places, one from Simon Fraser University. He affectionately advised me to accept and do a joint project on adolescent values. I disobeyed. I grieve over his passing. But equally, I feel so hurt postponing my call.

Successful workers rarely postpone a task. They get done what is to be done. No procrastination except for very pressing matters. Around January last year, I borrowed a book from my long-time friend Andy Johnson. It was the autobiography of Sir Alister McIntyre. (2016) I planned to celebrate his remarkable 87-year life in this column. Sir Alister, like the late UWI principal and president Prof Max Richards, rescued me from cliquish intrigues at UWI's St Augustine campus.

Around 2004 or so, at a home function of the affable Prof Karl Theodore, Grenadian-born Sir Alister beckoned me aside and said: “I am sorry we took so long.” He was apologising for the inordinate delay in promoting me to professor. I would have liked to pay tribute while he was alive. I will soon do so but not with the same pleasure.

Again, I planned to visit my 90-year-old friend the late Chief Justice Clinton Bernard last year. He was ailing. I delayed the visit. Other things came up.

He died last October without my seeing him.

Continue to say nice things about people you know after their death. Or yours. But at least visit them before.

The lesson is clear. Like the spoken word, the sped arrow and the past life, the lost opportunity does not come back. Within this virus-driven scare, will we use the precious time to reflect on the meaning of life, our humble place in the ever-expanding universe? And stop the procrastination?


"Thief of precious time"

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