Consider the word “time.” We use so many phrases with it. Pass time. Waste time. Kill time. Lose time. In good time. About time. Take your time. Save time. A long time. Right on time. Out of time. Mind the time. Be on time. Spare time. Keep time. Stall for time . . . (Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper, p. 18)

People fretted over missed chances, over inefficient days; they worried constantly about how long they would live, because counting life’s moments had led, inevitably, to counting them down. (p. 60)

I stared at the graves and time seemed suddenly short, inadequate, fleetingStanding on the deck of the house we are renting, I looked at my view and gasped. There, through the now bare branches in our backyard, I could see rows and rows of graves. The cemetery was small, but its presence overwhelmed me. Each morning, before I prayed by the sliding doors to the backyard, I stared at the graves. And time seemed suddenly short, inadequate, fleeting. Give me more time. Make the clock stop. The gray tombstones seemed to whisper: “One day, you will need to give an accounting for every minute of your life. Are you using the minutes, the hours, the days?”

And I thought about the last time we visited my great-uncle in the nursing home. It had been a long drive, and our two little boys literally ran down the hallway to my uncle’s room. The hall was lined with patients in their wheelchairs; some of them stared into space, and some of them slept. Some of their faces lit up when they saw the jumping, laughing children fly past them. I hurried after the boys, and tried not to look at the wrinkled, fading lives all around me. I hated the smell of aging. I hated the silence of aging. But most of all, I realized that I hated the sheer inevitability of aging.

I watched my two-year-old pause beside the wheelchair of an elderly man with sparkling blue eyes who was waving at him. The man laughed and leaned forward for a moment, as if to whisper a secret that somehow echoed off the almost sterile floor beneath us.

“I used to be able to run just like you. I remember it. I remember running,” he said. And then he sat back, and watched with a smile as my son disappeared down the hallway. I felt something catch in my throat as I waved to him and rushed to catch up with my toddler. How long had it been since this man had run? Maybe twenty years? Thirty years? A speck of time. A mere flash in the universe. On the way home, I wondered what it felt like to remember running. To remember a whole lifetime, outside of the walls of the nursing home. Didn’t he long to run again?

I see the graves outside the kitchen window in the middle of the morning rush. And again at sunset, the cemetery looks eerily beautiful in the fading light. I think of what a recovering addict said on his one-year anniversary without drugs.

I remember wondering why he was counting the days, the hours and the minutes of his recovery“Today, I have 525,600 minutes since I became free.” And I remember wondering why he was counting the days, the hours and the minutes of his recovery. Didn’t that just make the time go by slower for him? When I asked him, he said something I’ll never forget: “I want time to go slower. Drugs took away time from me. They erased years of my life that I’ll never get back. There were times when I didn’t know what day it was, or even whether it was morning or night. Now I count every minute, because I need to remind myself that it is a miracle that I am alive at all. A miracle that I now know the difference between Monday and Friday, between day and night, between living in an illusion and being alive.”

The first couple of days after we moved into this home, I avoided looking at the cemetery as much as I could. But then I realized that these graves were in my backyard right now for a reason. And in order to hear the message, I needed to be courageous enough to look straight at the cemetery and learn from it. What could I learn? I learned to stop wasting time. Here are three habits that I saw were in the way:

1. Complaining

Some of us like to call this “venting,” but sometimes we have the courage to call it what it really is: whining. There is always something to complain about: the weather, the missed school bus, the broken appliance, the frustrating colleague, the spilled milk . . . But the truth is that whining is just a waste of valuable time. Identify the problem and fix it. And if you can’t fix it, then accept it and move on. “Venting” ends up draining not only our time, but our energy too.

2. Substituting

Using things or impressions to fill in the gaps. Like shopping when I don’t need anything. Or spending an inordinate amount of time choosing between monroe bisque and quincy tan for our new living room walls. Or hiding my authentic self behind degrees or career titles. This would also include eating when you’re not hungry, sleeping when you’re not tired, and talking when you have nothing to say.

3. Fearing

Identify the problem and fix it. And if you can’t fix it, then accept it and move onNot risking anything so that I don’t have to fail. Worrying about things that already happened, or can possibly happen, or may have happened. Being afraid to leave my “comfort” zone, even when I know the cause is justified. Wondering whether I have enough experience, knowledge, tools, etc., to do something, and never actually doing it because I’m still evaluating whether I can.

And with this last lesson, I learned that there are also things we should fear. Like not living up to our potentials. Not recognizing the ticking clock. Not running while we still can. And ultimately, we should fear and feel awe for the real Time Keeper, who will one day ask us to give an accounting of the 525,600 minutes of each year of our lives. Give me more time. We all say at some point. But G‑d gives each of us a limited amount of time. And He expects us to know the difference between Monday and Friday, between day and night, between living an illusion and being alive.