Saturday, March 29, 2014

What day is it?

I used to work in a retirement home, but I didn't take care of the old people. I worked on the network that supported the business of caring for the old people. I worked at what could best be described as the Four Seasons Retirement Home. Here, wealthy people get to live out their waning years in plush accommodations with food prepared by professional cooks, landscaped grounds, and round the clock medical staff. They were the people we used to call Middle Class in the 60s and 70s.

It was a great time in Irvine, California. I got out of the office quite a bit to get my work done. I took time to talk to everyone and get a sense of what was going on with their computers doing desktop support. I got to walk among the lush vegetation carefully planted everywhere. I felt the cool Pacific breezes on hot sunny days as I walked the grounds.

There were three areas of living for the retirement home. Independent living, where you get to come and go as you please, go on group trips to Europe and play bridge together. Then there was assisted living, a place for people who weren't quite all there. They'd forget stuff, like who they were, where they were and why they were crossing the street off the grounds. Then there was skilled nursing, that's where you're in a bed and you know the end is getting pretty close. I spent time working around residents in all three areas and learned quite a bit about how people live in retirement homes.

One thing I noticed about the independent living section is that the people living there are the happy people that were walking every day and making jokes. Once you stop walking, you've just greased the slide to your demise. If you stop making jokes, who wants to be around?

Some of the residents are even, shall we say, "spunky". One resident I got to know actually slapped me on the butt as I was walking by. Imagine my surprise. She was one of the funny ones, too. She laughed and she made jokes. She also walked every day, without fail.

In case you were wondering, the average age of the residents was 82 years old, mostly female. If you're a male wallflower, they're going to find you, so there's still hope.

I got to know a few people in the assisted living section, too. I remember one lady very well. I would talk with her frequently because I found myself in that area almost every day. She was there, walking around, just enjoying the sunlight, the breeze and the day passing by. I would tell her stories and she would laugh and seemed to enjoy herself.

One day I found myself telling her a story that I had already told her before. I was worried that I had been caught, but she didn't say anything. She just listened. I continued as if nothing happened and then stopped to let her know that I had already told her that story. She said that I should continue because she didn't remember.

Hmmm. "What day is it?", I asked. She didn't know. She said that every day is pretty much the same. She doesn't know what day of the week it is and doesn't seem to mind or care. There is no difference to her.

What an interesting state of mind. I've had that briefly as an adult while on vacation. I recall the feeling of not knowing what day it is and not caring. The last time I had that feeling was when I was a kid, and that was only for a few years during the summer months. The people living at a retirement home can go on for many years like that and not know what happened.

Talking with this woman showed me just how arbitrary our timekeeping system is. We have years, days, hours and seconds. Nature determined the number of days in a year, but only bankers could give us the calendar we have now. Someone decided that we needed 24 hours not 10. Someone decided that we needed 60 seconds, not 100, even though a decimal system would make more sense. But even a decimal system can seem arbitrary to brains that really haven't evolved to track time. That's why we have clocks.

As I write this, I lose track of time. The creative process does not run by clocks. It runs by synapses in the brain, firing, connecting and synchronizing. All of it comes from somewhere, and time is the space that lets it happen.

We use time as a reference so that we can synchronize our efforts to cooperate. It's an arbitrary reference that we must agree to use together or nothing will get done on time. We use it measure work, measure output, and measure results. But for anyone who is not working, there is no need to keep time. Not that I can think of.

If you're not working, time isn't a big deal, especially when you've already had your day in the sun. The only time that matters is now. The past is gone and the future isn't here yet. Working with the retirement home really helped me to put this in perspective. Whatever was important to the residents living there when they were 20 doesn't matter now, it's just a faint memory.

I drive a car to work every day. I know that someday, the work routine I have now will change. I may come to a point in my life where driving car is not a requirement for living, it might just be something that I enjoy doing. Working on computers may no longer be relevant for me. Anything can happen. But now, I'm here, doing what I know how to do.

Knowing what day it is didn't matter until I was maybe 5 years old. At some point in my future, that won't matter anymore, I don't know when that will happen, whether I will even notice and I don't need to find out now. I know what day it is now, and that is enough for one day.
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