Even Time Shall Pass

As fortune had it for him, he found the watch on the sand mere moments after he washed up on the shores of the lonely island. Who knows what unfortunate soul before him once owned it, and either lost it to the sand or else threw it away? That was exactly six months, eighteen days, twenty-three hours, five minutes, and thirteen seconds ago.


While it would have perhaps been an instrument of torture for anyone else in his position (or for its original owner, for all he knew), it afforded him what little comfort he could get from the island. As long as the watch clicked, as long as the hands revolved around its face, he could be sure that time went on, that one could always be added to another value in perpetuity. It meant that he was out of the aeviternity, that strange plane of existence terrifying to ponder, where there was no time at all!  It meant that, at the very least, he had his life in this world left to him.


Perhaps he should have expected, then, the day when the watch finally stopped. All things had to stop, he knew very well, and even the beating of his own heart had to stop one day. But if he was stoic about the passing of his dear watch within his head, however, it wounded him in his heart like nothing in his memory ever had.


Thankfully for him, he had been awake and looking directly at its face when he saw it tick its last. In a panic, he grasped the closest piece of driftwood he could find and drew two lines in the sand. So it was true, he could still add one, and time did not yet have a stop! That was two months, five days, thirteen hours, twenty-eight minutes and a second ago.


He was sure, ever since that day, that it was up to him to keep it going, to keep the minutes and hours, keep adding one to one, and so he did. There were tallies of his own doing that were sure to someday span the entire circumference of the island.


It was such a monumental task that he even had a lurking thought in his mind that it might attract the attention of some other unfortunate drifter, and so it did.


He explained his difficult lot on the island before the stranger had a chance to ask: I keep the time here, you see. Ever since the watch stopped so long ago, it’s thanks to me that we can all keep going, that we can put one foot in front of the other, to look for food or water, or shelter, or a place to lay one’s head, or a companion to pass the time with, time that, of course, without me, wouldn’t pass at all.


But then, all the talk of finding food, water, and a place to lay one’s head made him realize that during his entire tenure as timekeeper, he never once sought to secure those very things for himself. As he made his next mark on the sand he could not help but notice the weight of this fast upon his whole body. Perhaps, he implored the stranger, you could just this one time keep the time in my place? It wouldn’t have to be for long, he assured the young man, just a few moments to lift the weight of this important task, Atlas-like, off my tired shoulders.


The stranger scoffed at his humble request at first, and who but the man who could look inside his heart could say why. Maybe, being accustomed to the passage of time without being directly responsible for its preservation, he merely took it all for granted. Or maybe, on his part, the Atlas metaphor wasn’t the best one he could have inspired the young man’s confidence with, as it’s well-known that Atlas goes on to take advantage of that hero’s charity and leave the burden of heaven to him for all time.


Please, my friend, have mercy, he begged. I can assure you I don’t want to leave this terrible task to another, as only I among us on the island understand the full measure of its import. It is for that very reason that I ask for this brief reprieve. For what if in my exhaustion I were to suddenly lose consciousness, and in so doing I fail to make another mark? What if, because of my human frailty, I inadvertently cause time to have a stop for all of us at last?


Who could say what spark of begrudging compassion finally ignited in the man’s heart, save, of course, for the aforementioned man who could peer inside it? Maybe he knew, as much as he may not have wanted to offer his aid, that there was no real reason he could find, even if he scoured in the deepest recesses of his soul, to refuse. Maybe, no matter how hardened a heart has become, the pathetic cries of one in true dire need can always soften it to acts of charity.


With a hearty sigh that belied the surface altruism of the gesture, he accepted the driftwood, and the great responsibility of the task.


A surge of myriad emotions and urges coursed through his whole body when he rose to his feet. For a short period of time, the semblance of a normal life was before him. He could eat and drink and sleep, and laugh and weep and hope and despair as much as the next man. Where could he possibly even begin?


He let out a fierce yawn and stretched what seemed to him like every creaky muscle and bone in his body.


What a feeling of exhilaration that suddenly burned deep within his breast! He ran circles around his time-keeping new friend, careful not to disturb the notches of time already laid into the sand. Six months ago he wouldn’t have been able to tell you if he even could do cartwheels, or somersaults, or backflips. But now, he lost count of how many he did.


The possibilities beggared his mind and left him simply jumping up and down, attempting to escape the bounds of gravity with a foolish exuberance he had not remembered since he was a child. He relished the fleeting feeling of weightlessness, then the feeling of the sand in his toes as the shore gently caught his feet and pushed them back aloft, over and over again. Ah, what a sheer pleasure it was: motion, the daughter of time, and exercise its grandchild, truly gifts from God Himself.


Of course, there is always the possibility of indulging in too much of a good thing, and so it was with his joyful leaps and bounds. He sat back down on the sand, next to his diligent notches of time, and gave himself some moments to recover his breath.


How was his replacement time-keeper getting on, the thought suddenly jumped in his head. Thankful it did, he turned to his companion, also aware, by the own clock of his beating heart, that a minute was about to pass.






It seemed the young man was just as exacting in his measures as he was. Confident that he could trust him with this measure of time for the whole island, and who knew, perhaps even the whole world, he let out another magnificent yawn and began the sleep of someone who hadn’t for eight months, twenty-four days, twelve hours and… oh, wait, that was since before the other man arrived… so… that’s, uh… thirteen hours, and… uh… and began the sleep of someone who hadn’t in over eight months.


His nap was dreamless at first. He simply surrendered the weight of his whole body, and relished the feeling of the sand beneath him, cradling him in complete relaxation, not a limb of him tense, not a single muscle clenched.


But then it started, as it does for all men with cares weighing down their hearts, that fickle picture-show of the mind, which played for its one-man audiences tales of wonder and woe in equal measure.


He dreamed (or was it a dream after all? for it was sure to happen to him someday), that he crossed over to the land all men must go, and the lord of that grand kingdom ordered from him a reckoning of all his deeds.


He fearlessly recounted the works and days of his life entire, proudly declaiming the noteworthy moments while not shirking away from those that brought him shame.


He could not help but let a little pride escape him in the recounting of his last and most laudable of achievements on this earth, the keeping of the time. It was thanks to him, he told the mighty lord upon his judgment seat, that one could be added to one, that a man could put one foot in front of the other.


The man upon the dread seat of life and death merely scowled, and pointed back to the world, back to the profane depths of mankind and its hopes and despair and folly.


What he saw there horrified him. Cities laid to ruin, its once tall buildings now reduced to their skeletons and lying impotent along the horizon. The sky red with the fires of a negligent society. The waters of the earth rising up and washing away the apathy of the world. And the teeming multitudes, millions of souls all imprisoned in a moment. Children weeping that they will never grow up, old men and women gnashing with regret over what once was and never able to let it go, scores of lonely souls wailing over what they don’t like about themselves, forever unable to change.


A terrible voice rung out in his head: have a care with who you entrust time with, careful upon where you leave its marks. For all you know, that piece of wood had been long since cast into the sea, or the tides, feeling braver than before, encroached upon even more territory than they thought possible in their wildest dreams, and washed away the notches.


But all things must pass, and so too did this troublesome dream, and soon after all other worry from his heart. The beating of his heart confirmed what he knew was true all along, that time was still passing, that one beat could be added to another, and so one moment could follow the last. And thankful he was this it was so, for what a horrible moment to be shackled to, his friend trapped with a job that was rightly his, and he in eternal impotent repose. It was only a matter of time, then, before he’d return to his sacred charge of keeping the time.


It was only a matter of time before he’d finally wake up.

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