What Does it Mean to Be “On Time” Anyways? — By Lydian Shipp
Guanajuato Mexico North America

What Does it Mean to Be “On Time” Anyways? — By Lydian Shipp

I do my best to have a sense of humor. I really do. But sometimes, my sense of humor steams out and all that’s left of it are a few sizzling drops of cynical, dark, and angry commentary on the bottom of the metaphorical dry pan. I tell myself that it’s sort of endearing that our construction workers hum or whistle to themselves, or even break out into song at various, random times during the day as they work (and it is, just not when the workers are in my kitchen or right outside my door when I leave to go for my walk). I say, oh, it’s no big deal that my oven is in my bathroom today, when yesterday it was in my living room, and that I have to do a hop, skip, and a jump over a hole in the floor to get to go pee in the middle of the night. I ignore things like the pounding coming from third and fourth floor. And, as long as it’s just pounding (which is rarely the case), I’m exceptionally good at droning it out. I can even sleep through it (fitfully).

Just for the record, I’m not upset with anybody. I’m extremely grateful for all the people we have working for us on the house right now. They all seem to have good energy and they’re hard workers, and in reality, I wouldn’t pick another crew. I feel comfortable with these people. But, that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes, my morning reveries or nightly meditations get interrupted by midnight floods or the sound of an albañil singing an out-of-key love song at the top of his lungs while he lays tile in the bathroom in the apartment next to mine. Again, I’m not upset with the guy singing. I can relate actually. It’s just that… well, I like to think, and the sound of a saw or whistling or incessant pounding coming from two or three stories up isn’t exactly supportive of my normally introspective and quiet Home Self.

Given, I’m proud of myself for learning to accept noise. A moderate amount can be okay with me now. Every night, there’s someone outside who plays music far away until 3AM, and although some nights I can’t stand it, most nights it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve even learned to enjoy some of the songs I hear every night.

But maybe that’s just my denial talking.

I often wonder why I feel so mentally exhausted or physically drug out, despite the comparative lack of extreme mental and/or physical exertion. I work during the day, but it’s not over-the-top to the point that I’d feel fried by the end of the day. But then, every once and a while, from our workspace in the living room on second floor, my mom and I will share a pissed off look or a laugh (depending on our moods), and I’m reminded of why I feel tired. It’s exhausting to deny the fact that I live in a work site. And to deny it every day for months. But I’ve gotta continue denying it or I won’t make it. I almost don’t even want to write about it, because once I acknowledge the denial I start to notice what I’m denying, and then I feel irritable and angry. And I like to be happy and accepting. So I’m going to go back to denying the scraping sound that’s coming from outside my apartment door now.

One of our mantras is that various noises are the sound of work being done. Things getting crossed off the to-do list. The sound of us getting closer to having a finished house (haha, will that even happen?) that we can live in and do stuff with. With every scrape and whirr, we get closer to a trip abroad. And with each dramatic BOOM and whistle, we get closer to having our lives back and even starting with some new lifestyle practices and ideas.

So it’ll be okay. Denial is the name of the game. This will end someday. I suppose this is a grand exercise in patience for me.

I suppose that working on patience is something that I need to do. When I go to the intercambio (language exchange), one of the questions that we all sometimes have to answer is “What would you change about yourself if you could wake up tomorrow and have a new personal quality?” My answer is pretty much always patience. Well… that and speaking Spanish fluently, but that’s a different subject. When I walk downtown, I am impatience and other negative emotions stemming from impatience, and I don’t like it. I get upset with the slow people, the crowds stopping me from walking fast, or the random various things I have to dodge to get from here to there (all of which technically slow me down). Sometimes, an “edge” when I walk down the street is necessary. But sometimes, taking a deep breath and accepting the slowness around me is important too.

The last time I went downtown to do a callejoneada, well… okay, I thought I was going to do a callejoneada. No one had bought any tickets for our 7:30 performance, so I actually didn’t do the performance technically, which is a symbolic part of the story I suppose, but anyways… As I was walking downtown, I practiced relaxing and going with the flow. When someone got in my way or I was otherwise impeded, I took a deep breath and tried to find something positive about the person/thing and a way to forgive them/it. By the time I’d arrived at my destination and I was through all the crowds, I realized that I’d actually had more run-ins with people than normal. I’ve gotten pretty good at dodging people over the years, but that day, it almost seemed as if the Universe had put obstacles and people in my way on purpose to see what I’d do with it. Even despite all the obstacles, I only arrived 3 minutes late to where I was going and I was barely out of breath.

As an American, I like to be on time. Actually, I like to be early. Which, although this is a trait I will probably never abandon because it’s rare to find people who are legitimately on time regularly and who stick to deadlines for real, there’s something to be said for chilling the f*** out and being a bit late sometimes. Lately, I’ve discovered that when I accept that I might be late, I actually tend to arrive almost exactly on time. And when I rush to get where I’m going, I somehow end up arriving late. I’m still baffled and a bit confused in regard to how this works, but I’m telling you, I can run downtown and still arrive late, even if I left early, but if I walk slower than normal after leaving a few minutes late, I arrive pretty much on time. Maybe one minute later than I said I’d be there. How does that work? (I don’t know, it’s a philosophical question.)

I can only hope that someday I’ll achieve this level of zen tranquility…

This impatience with getting where I’m going and arriving “on time” to appointments extends out into the rest of my life too in a more metaphorical sense. What is “on time”? Maybe, “on time” is being late, because you were supposed to arrive at that particular moment and not a moment sooner or later. Maybe all the obstacles between me and my destination(s) are meant to make me think about something important. It reminds me of a time when my mom felt lost with what she was doing (I was about 11 or 12, I think), and she decided that she was going to meditate for 30 minutes every day as one of her to-do list items. She said that she started noticing things she’d never noticed before, like the “Exit” sign above our pantry door for example. I’ve noticed this phenomenon for myself before too when I meditate or introspect actively, and it never ceases to amaze me. It’s fascinating the things I notice or the thoughts I have when I allow myself to take a breath, be patient, and look around me with acceptance and calm. Of course, I’m aware that this isn’t always possible, but I think that it’s an important skill to have. If I have trouble cultivating this peaceful state of mind when I’m in a relatively peaceful period of time in my life, how will I be able to console myself or those around me when I reach difficult times?

Different cultures look at time differently. Latin American cultures in particular seem to have a more laid back mindset when it comes to time. Being late doesn’t seem to be a big deal (or at least not usually). At the same time that this laid back perception of time drives me insane when it has to do with something important like our internet getting hooked up or a job interview, I also admire it. In Costa Rica, my mom and I talked a lot about how incredible it was that people from tiny little houses out in the coffee fields could sit at bus stops without a book, their phone, or some other thing to entertain themselves, and how they could still appear to be relatively “OK”. Here in Guanajuato at bus stops, I still marvel at how chill the people waiting usually are. Not always of course, but I’m pretty antsy in comparison to the vast majority of the rest of the folk waiting at the bus stops. I bounce on my toes, I compulsively check the time on my phone, and I peer out down the street to see if the bus is coming. Sometimes I pace back and forth over a small area (and then I stop to bounce on my toes some more and check the time). Sometimes I do these behaviors more than other times, but I often get impatient whenever I’m forced to wait at the bus stop too.

What would happen if I accepted the wait time? What if I chose to be content with the slowness of things? What if I could look at everything I’m doing and be at peace with the pace at which I’m learning things and doing things? I don’t think I’d get things done faster necessarily, but I do think I’d be happier.

And who knows… maybe they would get done faster.

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