On a tear off calendar (series: notes to myself)

We live as if we added time to our existence. Days pile up, like read books. Age increases, like memories. Years accumulate, like old photographs yellowing in an album. The journey accrues special moments, like points in some loyalty card. Not knowing the end, we consider only the beginning, and we start counting from there. Like using a digital calendar that has as many days as you need, our time as boundless as the natural numbers, plus one being the rule.

But I remember that in our old house, in the small village, in the countryside, when celebrating the end of the year, we used to get a daily, tear off calendar. It was a free gift from a local shop. Days did not pile up, you tore them off, once a day, every day, until only the 31st of December was left, a lonely square of white paper, the date written in red, large and bold, deprived of all its dead siblings, already thrown into the dustbin. Going back to that house months later, you had to cut off a whole block, months were gone, visibly, like thick leaves in your hands, they had some perceivable weight.

That calendar was nailed to the wall, easily consultable. It would tell you the name of the saint celebrated on that day. As a little kid, I would flip through the pages (they were only glued at the top, to be easily removable) and imagined being already on that day, jumping in time, forward and backwards. I thought that if I could have the perfect instantaneous moment of concentration I could travel through that calendar. The fact that I failed only proved that I should concentrate better. 

Later, as an early teenager, I realised that being older was not having more years of experience but fewer to experience. I stopped cherishing the act of removing a page - I used to love to volunteer, and I was disappointed when my mother beat me to it. I started to count “backwards”: time left to the end of the academic year, to the end of high school, to the end of life itself.

Since I can remember, I have always had that tear off calendar in my mind. I have been generous and allowed myself 100 years. And every birthday is one year less in that, more realistic countdown. Maybe I would have always been inclined to plan, to manage the future as a shrinking space, to play the chess moves strategically, seeking to get to the right ending. That tear off calendar taught me the good habit of treating time as the most precious resource we have, finite and irreversible, and the bad behaviour of running through it “as if there were no tomorrow”, a beautiful phrase that few seem to grasp in full, feeling that there is never enough time for everything you would like to learn. 

I no longer believe that I can jump between its days. I know I cannot concentrate well enough. But I also know that if I wish something to happen much later in that calendar it is often essential to move the pieces on life's chessboard much earlier. Because by the time I shall tear off that day, it may be too late.

PS "Notes to myself" is available as a book on Amazon: ow.ly/sGyh50KfRra

Photo: Valparaiso, Chile.

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