Most prison inmates “do time,” a few are “Lifers.” Both have more-or-less definite release dates. We are all lifers. What to do ‘til we’re released?
In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck gives Tom Joad an answer, “Look, Ma, stop your worryin’. I’m a-gonna tell you somepin about bein’ in the pen. You can’t go thinkin’ when you’re gonna be out. You’d go nuts. You got to think about that day, an’ the nex’ day, about the ball game Sat’dy. That’s what you got to do. Ol’ timers does that. A new young fella gets buttin’ his head on the cell door. He’s thinkin’ how long its’s gonna be. Whyn’t you do that? Jus’ take ever’ day.” Looking back over eighty-four years, I appreciate Tom’s wisdom. “Jus’ take ever’ day” at a time.
How do Americans “do time”? For the majority it is work, entertainment, recreation. For all it is relationship.
From young adulthood to our fifth or sixth decade, the average American, does much of her or his time in a “job,” in busy-ness. Those lucky enough to “retire” lose this copout. After thirty plus years as a Civil Engineer, friend Kim discovered there are, “a lot of hours too fill in a day.” Retiring after thirty-plus years as a Professional Land Surveyor, I felt like the hapless Coyote in a “Road Runner” cartoon, realizing he’s raced off a cliff, staring down wide-eyed into a canyon. Luckily, Diane recommended William Bridges’s Transitions. I learned I was not alone, I’d survive. Retirement is a new job. Getting the hang of it takes time.
For most Americans doing time, entertainment is huge! We are the most entertained citizens since Rome’s Colosseum.* From Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, “entertain, to hold the attention of; interest; divert; amuse.” For billions-of-dollars, professional and college baseball, basketball, football and soccer captivate hundreds-of-millions. High school sports and Little Leagues keep “Soccer Moms” running and Dads coaching. Disneyland, Disneyworld, Legoland, SeaWorld, Universal Studios and a thousand “theme parks” entertain hundreds-of-millions. The Internet, Facebook and Social Media capture the attention of billions. TV, i-phones, i-pads, laptops, and desktops bring us real-time events from around the globe.
Recreation offers every-day, individual or group outlets for doing time. Webster again, “recreate, to restore, refresh, crate anew . . . recreation, refresh in body or mind, as after work, by some form of play, amusement, or relaxation.” When not at work or entertained, we walk, hike, run, bowl, swim, golf, camp, fish, hunt, ski, make or find a thousand other diversions.
Finally, we all share the reason for doing time, why work, entertainment and recreation are worth the effort, Relationship! Webster, “relate, to bring back . . . Relation . . . connection or mode of connection.” Perhaps secretly, each of us know that without other people, working, being entertained, and recreation are meaningless. Doing time is about relationship. About People! About Love!
*Afterthought: Could American’s current thirst for entertainment link to concomitant spikes in homelessness, hunger, vandalism, murders, mass shootings, xenophobia, homophobia, domestic abuse and misogyny? Is America following Rome’s path to collapse?