Monday, January 6, 2014

The Time Keeper

 Book: The Time Keeper
Author: Mitch Albom
Edition: eBook
Read:  January 9, 2014

271 pages
Rated: 3 1/2 out of 5

The story, a parable, is about time-the time we have in our lives. There are three main characters:

  • Dor, who is a post flood character who becomes Father Time.
  • Victor, the fourteenth riches guy in the world, who is dying of kidney disease.
  • Sarah, a smart, but ugly senior in high school
Each of these try to control the time around them. One wants to die; one wants to live forever; and the third wants more time to save a person he loves.

There are 81 short chapters in 10 parts. The parts are:
  • Prologue
  • Cave
  • The In-Between
  • Falling
  • City
  • Letting Go
  • New Years Eve
  • Stillness
  • Future
  • Epilogue

The story starts with Albom saying, This is a story of the meaning of time...(16) What does Albom deliver on?Albom's main point is that each of us has a set time to live. We are to be content with the lives we are given and not try to lengthen or shorten them. He points to that each of us has a plan, but does not say what that plan is-we are to find it as we live it.But that in itself is not the meaning of time. It is only how we live out our time. That seems to me to be two different, but connected ideas.

Dor starts the story by measuring time. This is something of an obsession with him. He is pictured as the first scientist, that is an observer of natural phenomenon, particularly of the changes he sees around him. Change requires time. So he starts to measure time with sticks and shadow, then later water. This is what gets him into trouble, on two counts. The first is he starts to ignore his wife which he loves by obsessing after measuring time. The second is Dor trying to control time.  Albom is saying we cannot control our time, either by measuring it or by trying to buy time. This is demonstrated when Dor climbs the Tower of Babel to make his appeal to God for time for his sick wife. God wants to show Dor how come he does not know what he is doing. Isn't that true of what we do when we want things changed from what we see? We think things will be beautiful if only this is changed. In reality, we need to understand how to live in our situations with strength and direction from God. 

When Dor comes out into the time cave, he understands he has lost the attempt to save his wife. But even more, he needs to understand the misery he caused, by listening to the cries about time-too much and too little; not enough and why am I living so long.

Albom states that before Dor, time was not kept. Factually that does not seem right. Genesis says that time was divided between day and night. What difference does this make? Probably none since this is a story. Just a bit aggravating. Also Albom gets caught in a trap of his own making. In chapter 29, he talks about what if you had endless time to learn? ... study it for hours?  To learn, you need time, because to learn is to change and change requires time. Also, hours is a measure of passing time, so it would not be endless. I do think Albom is just using some colloquialisms. Still it is interesting how dependent he is on these figures of speech related to time.

There is a fourth important figure, who identifies himself only as the servant of the most high God. That is an old man who appears early in the story when  he comes and takes Dor's time measuring stick. Later on he comes into the picture when he appears to Dor in the time cave and gives him some loose thoughts about why he was in the cave-that was to serve his sentence-to hear every plea for a difference in time (75). Then he appears to ask the question, "what do you know about time?". This is to have Dor find a way to be a light to two others who are having time issues-Sarah and Victor. He gives Dor an hour glass, containing all the time in the universe, to control the flow of time. Does this servant of God also appear as the proprietor of the clock shop? (138)

This God-servant says that once the desire to count time is started, it does not end. We want to know both larger and smaller units of time. It consumes him. What man loses is the wonder of the world he has.(62). Isn't this the difference between examining and appreciating? We want out scientists to know and examine anything and everything because we hope to gain a better understanding of what is around us. We gain understanding of the stars, of the atoms, of life. But we lose our abilities to enjoy them in the fullest, to enjoy things as a young child might. We see the stars and part of us wonders what gases created it, what life exists out there. We lose the beauty of what we see, even in the smallest details. 

This raises the question, should we stop looking? Ignore what we see and halt our quest for knowledge? This may be the chief ill which Pandora let out of her box-the loss of satisfaction. The old man says to Dor understand the consequence of counting the moments. This is the purgatory which Dor enters into-knowing what his folly is.

Victor, a rich man, Albom describes as someone who thought the world could not live without him-Albom also noted that this is the thoughts of the powerful. But what happens if you come back 400 years later? Will you be rich? Will you be powerful? Will you be useful? This is the fallacy of time jumping or cryonics. The view Albom tells us of cryonics is it is a lifeboat to the future(105). The promise is whatever is the problem now will find a solution when you are brought back. But will you like yourself, or the world around you, when you are brought back? You are only you in your current time and place. Outside of those boxes, you are someone else and that someone else you might not like.

Albom places the words, "It is never too late or too soon. It is when it is supposed to be...There is a plan, Dor." in the servant of God's mouth. As part of this, Dor is to learn how to use time wisely--to be still, to cherish, to be grateful, to lift and be lifted. (101)  This is the part which Albom has the opportunity to talk and show the meaning of time. There is a plan, a plan for each of us from God according to Albom. What is it?

Why did you measure the days and nights? To know.  Sitting high above the city Father Time realized that knowing something and understanding it were not the same thing.  (183)

Confession: I am not a fan of Mitch Albom. Not because he does not write well-he does and he holds my interest. But because he does not deliver on what he says. Consequently, when I have read Albom's books, I find myself downgrading what I will be reading. This affects how I view his books. I am glad that this book is better than most of his.

Albom says he will deliver on is the meaning of time(16). Does he? I do not think so. He makes a good attempt to at least get us thinking about what our days are like and how we live in them. But the meaning of time? I do not think so. I am not sure that anybody could write coherently about it.

Albom's main point is that each of us has a set time to live. We are to be content with the lives we are given and not try to lengthen or shorten them. He points to that each of us has a plan, but does not say what that plan is-we are to find it as we live it.

There are many good quotes, but if you are looking for a shorter statement about time, take a look at Job. It will give you a good sense of what Albom is trying to get at.
A person’s days are determined;
    you have decreed the number of his months
             and have set limits he cannot exceed.   Job 14: 5

New Words:

  • karst (74) Karst is a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks including limestone, dolomite and gypsum. It is characterized by sinkholes, caves, and underground drainage systems
  • vitrification (105)  To change or make into glass or a glassy substance, especially through heat fusion.

Good Quotes:

  • First Line: A man sits alone in a cave.
  • Last Line: And as that glass is lifted by curious workers, someplace far away--someplace indescribable in the pages of a book--a man named Dor and a woman named Alli run barefoot up a hillside, tossing stones, laughing with their children, and time never crosses their minds.
  •  Try to imagine a world without timekeeping. (17)
  • A fear of time running out (18)
  • Man rarely knows his own power. (62) 
  • Learn what you do not know. (63)
  • He was doing what man does when left with nothing. He was telling himself his own life story. (91)
  • Mankind is connected in ways it does not understand--even in dreams. (95)
  • There is a reason God limits man's days. (102, 254)  To make each precious. (254)
  • He wondered if every clock watcher pays some kind of price. (129)
  • A man who can take anything will find most things unsatisfying. And a man without memories is just a shell. (154)
  • He wondered how It was fair that your dying should depend so much on when you were born. (157)
  • We all yearn for what we have lost. But sometimes we forget what we have. (167)
  • With endless time, nothing is special. With no loss or sacrifice, we can't appreciate what we have. (253) 
  • ...once we began to chime the hour, we lost the ability to be satisfied. ... The simple joy of living between sunrises was gone. (256)
  • When you are measuring life, you are not living it. (256)


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