When fretting about time, which I often do – whether or not I have enough time for all the tasks at hand, whether not I have enough tasks to fill the time, whether something I want or need will be found in time for a deadline or my own satisfaction – I think about Jane Austen.
In an Austen novel, every period of time – between visits, between news, between one activity and the next – is measured, not in minutes or hours, but in weeks. Weeks. From Pride & Prejudice:
With the mention of Derbyshire there were many ideas connected. It was impossible for her to see the word without thinking of Pemberley and its owner. “But surely,” said she, “I may enter his county with impunity, and rob it of a few petrified spars without his perceiving me.”
The period of expectation was now doubled. Four weeks were to pass away before her uncle and aunt’s arrival. But they did pass away, and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, with their four children, did at length appear at Longbourn.
Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, it’s all I can do from having a mental breakdown. What if Mr. Darcy falls in love with someone else? What if Mr. Bingley marries someone else before finding out that Jane loves him? How do weeks and weeks and weeks pass and not even the tiniest of changes happen in these people’s lives? There’s no time to wait around like that, people! TIME KEEPS ON SLIPPING, SLIPPING, SLIPPING INTO THE FUTURE, FOR GOODNESS SAKE.
I think we fret about time because we feel like our lives will only have enough meaning if we cram as much as we can do into the brief time we have. I am possibly the guiltiest person on the planet in this regard. I’ve been averaging two to three major life changes per year every year since about 2004, and if my clip slows, I worry that my life is losing value.
But for the Bennet sisters and their contemporaries, both fictional and otherwise, it’s clear that all of the waiting actually creates more meaning for those events and actions. It makes them bigger, more dramatic, and positively dripping with meaning and value. Doing less can actually make what you do mean more.
Now, none of us have weeks to wait around for anything. And for most of us, it’s the next story or promotion or interview or project that we’re rushing toward, rather than the hand of a wealthy aristocrat. I think the concept can still apply though. We can still imbue more value into what we do by spending more time and care with each thing, rather than rushing to check it off our lists and move on.