Grace Period

I’ve always wanted a punch clock. I say that only having Loony Tunes and old movies for frames of reference. As a precocious kid, nothing seemed more grown up than punching in and punching out of a job.

The drop of the hammer, the chad falling away, the hole left behind…many think these to be affects of drudgery, evidence of giving up or selling out. To me they are the comforting sounds of sufficient regularity. The time clock is the opposite of the survey mentality.

I hate the survey mentality.

The survey has a use. The survey can get you good information, honest feedback about strengths and weaknesses.

But the survey ultimately ranks and measures and weighs and checks off. It tries to place you somewhere. It can’t just leave well enough alone and let you just be.

I hate the survey mentality because I don’t do bygones well. I will fixate on missteps and mistakes to the point that I’ll forget the things I’d actually like to remember.

In thirty-five years of life, I can confidently say that I am more likely to remember those things when I have the discipline to just punch in and punch out. I don’t need details or commentary. I just need to acknowledge that I was.

Throughout 2018, I gave myself a grace period. I knew the year was going to be one of a great many transitions–more than I expected, so it turned out. My resolution to myself was to rethink imperfection as a facet of life.

I also know I don’t have a penchant for purposely failing, so last year at this time I asked myself to be okay with trying and being tried. I didn’t need to break any records or win any awards. I just needed to punch in and punch out and be okay with that. I needed to be as gracious with myself as I hoped to be with others–period, no exceptions.

I tried the best I could given the circumstances. I trusted myself enough to not accuse me of cheating or trying to be a failure. And I did my darndest to only look long enough to see what happened. No room for director’s cut commentary. Punch in. Punch out.

The time card doesn’t leave room for regrets or lingering anxieties. It simply says, “You were here.” And that is so freeing.

Last night I didn’t have a good night’s sleep. As a parent of young children, I don’t expect to for quite awhile. That probably sounds awful. And there is a level at which it is. What I don’t want you to miss is the joy of being awake enough to recall a long awaited dream. The irregular rhythm on children can do that to you.

I finally had the dream where I remembered making mistakes but could stop paying penance for them long after forgiveness was received. I simply could look back at the past as an occasion, one for which I was glad to have been present. I was there and could take the good with the bad but really take the good and leave the bad behind. I punched in. I punched out. And it was great.

So I think I will abstain from assessing 2018. Instead I will enter the new year with a time card. I’ll approach the day’s tasks the way my friend Kelly describes how she learned to navigate life in her Grace Period: A Memoir in Pieces.

I needed to make it there soon. “Typical,” I muttered, “This is typical. I get distracted and miss a turn.”

But, I only missed a turn. I was able to make it again when I had another chance.

…to the new year and whatever it may be.

Richard Newton, PhD is curator of Sowing the Seed and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. His scholarship focuses on the anthropology of scriptures. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @seedpods.

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