Time is More than a Number
Modern timekeeping is no more than a simple translator. It is a translator that can convert the passing of time into a numerical value that all of humanity can understand and communicate in. More often than not, people today live their lives believing that knowing this number is enough to fully determine the circumstances within the world around them. But many years ago, before the era of watches and clocks, a different perspective was placed on timekeeping. A vivid account of this past world is recounted in the reflective essay, “The Telephone,” by Anwar F. Accawi. He recounts the village in which he grew up, Magdaluna, as a place where people use the occurrence of natural events—hurricanes, droughts, or snowstorms—as milestones to mark their history. These natural events act as “checkpoints” that essentially tell the time—but in a more meaningful and original way. Through the extensive use of imagery, symbolism, and exemplification, Accawi demonstrates how natural timekeeping can reach deeper and further into hearts and lives than what numbers alone can accomplish.
Imagery is first used by the author to explain how natural timekeeping is more memorable than modern timekeeping. When Teta Im Khahlil, the oldest woman in all of Magdaluna, comes to visit Accawi’s family, he vividly describes kissing her cheek as, “kissing a soft suede glove that had been soaked with sweat and then left in a dark closet for a season” (Accawi 1). Through the use of such details, a memorable impression is created and her age becomes more than just a large number. When people choose to use distinctive descriptions to convey how much time has passed, timekeeping becomes interactive, not static. And when the author asks his grandmother exactly how old Teta is, she does not reply with “106,” but rather, “I’ve been told that [she] was born shortly after the big snow that caused the roof on the mayor’s house to cave in” (Accawi 1). Now, that snowstorm itself happened “about the time [they] had the big earthquake that cracked the wall in the east room.” As Accawi listens to his grandmother, he is mentally transported back in time, able to visualize life in this past world. This description is uniquely specific to their life and allows the author to realize how much of a real person Teta Im Khahlil is.
Symbolism connects natural timekeeping with a bigger concept, making it more meaningful than modern timekeeping. The sun is one of these symbols because it provides light. This light, in return, represents all the life that inhabits the planet. The villagers of Magdaluna simply have to look at the light left in the sky to know when to eat, play, sleep, or work. That creates a mindful daily schedule because it follows directly in the path of nature itself. When Accawi mentions how “[The sun] rose and set, and the seasons rolled by, and we sowed seed and harvested and ate and played,” (Accawi 1) he is implying that without light brought forward by the sun, it would be impossible to carry out the tasks that define their purpose. By using the same timekeeper that the rest of nature uses, a sense of meaning lost amongst modern timekeeping can remain preserved. What’s more, the sun, being the crown of nature, provides life to another symbol that conveys why natural timekeeping is more meaningful—the Iraqi geese. These creatures have a guiding force of instinct that helps them determine when to fly north again, upon experiencing the hot and strong winds that blow inwards from the deserts that surround Magdaluna. The narrator takes this example and explains that the villagers’ life is quite similar. Depending on the climate, and time of year, the people just “knew what to do.” They knew when to prepare for winter and when to sow seed. In other words, the villagers also have an instinct they can use to survive and thrive, just like how life was since the beginning of time, and all because of the presence of natural timekeeping in their lives.
Exemplification is the third reason why natural timekeeping is more purposeful than modern timekeeping. One such instance is when the narrator, Accawi, asks his grandmother how old Teta Im Khahlil is. Being the oldest woman in the entire village, Accawi is curious to discover more about her past. As his grandmother’s mind slowly thinks back, she eventually decides that Teta was born “about the time [they] had the big earthquake that cracked the wall in the east room” (Accawi 1). The happening of that earthquake must have been a major natural disaster, because Accawi is immediately satisfied and thinks, “you couldn’t be more accurate than that, now, could you?” (Accawi 1). Merely upon the mention of these events, people are able to recount experiences and memories that seemed to be forgotten after all these years, making natural timekeeping not just more memorable, but unforgettable. Another example of natural timekeeping in action is taken during the year that “Antoinette the seamstress and Saeed the barber (and tooth puller) got married.” Using the modern timekeeping method, this would have been no more than an ordinary wedding, with the setting and layout of the event likely blurred after all these years. However, Accawi can still visualize this event clearly, because this was also “the year of the whirlwind during which fish and oranges fell from the sky.” That natural occurrence was what marked this milestone, creating memories that we passed down as stories by the villagers. In fact, this historic story was retold until “it was incorporated into Magdaluna’s calendar, just like the year of the black moon and the year of the locusts before it.” Accawi’s father, too, believed in this story, passing down this adventure to his son. By fostering quality family time and reliving the past through storytelling, natural timekeeping makes a meaningful difference that is now rare amongst the digital age.
Through the extensive use of imagery, symbolism, and exemplification in his reflective essay, Accawi successfully proves why natural timekeeping makes a meaningful difference that is difficult to find in society today. Modern timekeeping may be no more than a simple numerical translator, but natural timekeeping is far more complex. It gathers the light in the sky, natural phenomenons from the earth, and a village working together to create stories and memories that are irreplaceable today. And despite this complexity, life returns to its natural and humble beginnings again, as a powerful sense of instinct is developed, healthy bodies and minds are nurtured, family time is preserved, and life becomes fully entwined with the natural ways of the earth