I was standing on a street corner waiting for the light to turn, when I met eyes with a fellow pedestrian. His withered face and furrowed brow gave him an intense look of focus, and it was clear he was about to say something to me. My curiosity was piqued. I’ve had more than my share of interesting conversations with octo- and nonagenarians on the downtown sidewalks of my city, so I held his gaze and gave him a smile.

“You know, when I was a young man things were different.” 

I can hardly imagine what it’s like for our current generation of elders, born into the end of the Second Industrial Revolution, now living in this era of light-speed technological advancement. This wasn’t, however, an exercise in nostalgia. He was about to change my perspective.

 “I was an engineer” he said. “We were dreamers. Everything was changing, and everyone was getting so busy. We saw people losing what was important.”

With this, he really had my attention. I have learned that when people with double, triple, my life experience start to speak about what’s important, it’s best to listen very closely. 

“We developed machines. We realised that machines could help people get things done faster, could do work for them, and we thought it would change the world. And it did! But not the way we’d hoped.”

This lovely man went on to explain to me that the whole point of creating these machines we use to help us in our daily life, was to create space for down time – to reconnect with hobbies, loved ones, and leisure. He exclaimed, “You’ve all just filled it with more work! More tasks! You take all your time, and pack it to the gills!”

He’s right. I realised immediately that he was completely right. We lean on these machines to support us through rushed days and nights of multi-tasking and overtime, chaos and coordination. And thank goodness we have access to such technology! As a single parent with pets and burgeoning culinary enthusiasts in my home, I’d be lost without my washer, dryer, and dishwasher. Still, what he was saying made sense in my gut.

“Please. Take the time. Let them help you relax, not help you get busier.”

It seemed as though he could feel his message hitting home for me. Indeed, it was quite thought provoking. I could feel his younger self, the dreamer. I could feel the remnants of his optimism, imagining a world where his work could help people reconnect with each other, and with themselves. 

Life is busy and the demands upon my time are great. I sit here now, however, listening to the thrum of my washer taking care of my family’s laundry, and my dishwasher taking care of my family’s dishes, thinking of the man and his machines and feeling grateful for the gift he gave me on that street corner. The most precious gift of all: the gift of time.