If you are following along in the Summer Read, this post was born of Chapters I-III of Gulliver’s Travels. If you happen to be reading the kiddos’ version, it would help if you’ve read through pg. 27.
Monday we sat down to read to the end of Chapter III. More accurately, I sat down to read aloud while my wife was painting the walls. It happens. We found ourselves laughing aloud for a few portions, offering a simple “Hmmm…” for others. Gulliver keeps you on your toes, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of reading Swift’s extensive vocabulary out loud! The book is indeed challenging in that way. Swift demonstrates the unique gift of being able to place 18th century potty humor (Gulliver is not shy about his bathroom exploits) right next to stabbing, yet engaging, human commentary.
The nerd version features a number of footnotes that hint at the possible historical persons who show up in the various characters. Gulliver was a work of offense to Swift’s original audience, but I’ve quickly come to realize that the footnotes add nothing to the enjoyment of the story unless you are interested in finding out what they have to say. Is it helpful to know that Flimnap is “usually taken to represent Sir Robert Walpole, chancellor of the Exchequer and head of the Whig government from 1715-1717?” Maybe. But let’s be honest, if you don’t know, you’re not missing much. It’s a fun story.
I found the inventory of Gulliver’s pockets to be enjoyable. It is probably a comment on my own typical reading habits, but trying to decipher the contents of his clothing from the perspective of a man six inches tall, combined with the period in which the book was written proved to be a fun game! I found myself going back, after reading about the gunpowder demonstration, to realize that the pieces in his pockets were in fact pistols.
Most fascinating to me, though, was the pocket watch.
As I sat down to write this post, my son was watching intently over my shoulders – not because he cared to read dear ‘ol Dad’s words. He was watching the clock on my laptop. You see, 3:30 is snack time. He returned to my back three times in the ten minutes between 3:20 and 3:30. At 3:28, he was content to wait for the digital readout to change. Is it snack time yet? I’m sure by having a snack time at all, I am guilty of promoting this pattern, but it speaks to the Lilliputians viewpoint of time.
“And we conjecture it is either some unknown Animal, or the God that he worships: But we are more inclined to the latter Opinion, because he assured us… that he seldom did any thing without consulting it. He called it his Oracle, and said it pointed out the Time for every Action of his Life.”
The nearest reference (as I remember) to specific time in Lilliputian terms is the “fourth Day of the eighty ninth Moon of your Majesty’s auspicious reign.” They had apparently taken the time to record the length of their good fortune, but the notion of hourly tracking was unusual.
I’ve often heard it said that the obsession with linear time is an American trait. (For a rather lengthy article discussing the proposition, check this link. You will be redirected to Business Insider. Whether fact or no, the article addresses the idea.) From a biblical perspective, this is certainly true as well. For example, what day of the week was 9/11? Easy enough. What day of the week was the Last Supper? Scholarly folks are still arguing about that one. Today, we obsess over tracking every single minute of every single day – studying the trees. Other cultures, perhaps, pay more attention to the forest… or at least different trees!
As I’ve studied biblical Hebrew, one of the most fascinating differences is the treatment of linear time. Verbs in Hebrew do not retain, in and of themselves, a past/present/future voice. Rather they exist as perfect/imperfect with regard to completion. Linear timing is determined largely by context. If that notion confuses you, that’s OK. It confused me as well, at first. I’ve tried to learn from a non-linear expression of time the significance and spatial relationship of the event, rather than simply a timeline.
I am a time-tracker. I’ve not always been surrounded by time-trackers, though. This means I’ve spent unfortunate portions of my life waiting. Only in the current stage of living have I taken considerable time to pay less attention to the clock, or rather to be less controlled by it. Obviously, if I fail to show up to work or class on time, there are consequences. But while this may be true, it is all-too-easy to allow the clock to have a say in my mood or my view of others, or perhaps to dictate the actions of my day, including how I spend my time waiting.
I have been challenged over the past few years on how to strike a balance between honoring the time of others (particularly those who obsess over the clock more than I!), while also resisting the urge to watch the clock to the exclusion of the person or event in front of me. I’ve tried to “calculate” my day based on both time and the importance of the action. It’s not easy. A creature of habit, I am.
At the outset of this year, I spent considerable time (ironic?) considering how I would govern my time. I’ve never been able to maintain an accurate calendar for long, and I am no good with tech calendars. I prefer paper. I can’t help it. I came across a number of interesting resources, including one from Donald Miller called The Storyline. While I did not adopt the planner as my day-to-day scheduling process, I found the premise to be fascinating, and I have visited the concepts from time to time. His aim is to combine time and significance to achieve productivity (and a hint of peace along the way). If nothing else, it’s an exercise in thinking differently about your time.
How much is the clock an Oracle for your life?
How do you react when the hours fail to follow the schedule?
How do you spend time waiting?
And what would the Lilliputians find in YOUR pockets?
There is another post coming today!