Right before the weighty and moving climax of the film, our hopeful and silly shop owner Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) is treated to a day of momentous and remarkable, yet simple, adventures by his assistant. As a part of this sensational day, Magorium’s devoted and loving assistant Molly Mahoney, (Natalie Portman) leads him into a charming clock shop. In this shop, the two fun and childlike souls, take it upon themselves to set all the clocks to go off at exactly the same time. Molly quickly and excitedly returns to Mr. Magorium after the last clock had been set and he informs her that all they have to wait is thirty-seven seconds for the myriad of clocks to go off. Their conversation goes like this:
Mr. Magorium: "Thirty-seven seconds."
Molly Mahoney: "Great. Well done. Now we wait."
Mr. Magorium: "No. We breathe. We pulse. We regenerate. Our hearts beat. Our minds create. Our souls ingest. Thirty-seven seconds, well used, is a lifetime."
This simple statement has made a very deep-seated impression in my daily outlook on life. I think most of us have heard and comprehend the big idea that is not about HOW MUCH time we have in life, but rather, what we do WITH the time we have. The uncomplicated presentation of thirty-seven seconds, I believe, completely and encapsulates the meaning and importance of this familiar thought. Much of our lives are going to be spent doing a lot of things that seem meaningless and inconsequential. We're going to spend numerous seconds of our time on earth waiting for what we believe is the next decisive prize or accomplishment. Our big "next". We spend our lives wishing for the the next thing in life we're looking forward to. The practice spending our duration on this planet eagerly waiting for what we want becomes habit. Waiting and wishing becomes comfortable. Waiting and wishing becomes the expected thing to do in life. However, I truly do not believe that this is how we were intended to live our lives.
Instead of seeing thirty-seven seconds as purposeless waiting time, what if we saw every thirty-seven seconds as a lifetime of choices that could change the course of our existence? Or not even simply our personal lives, but the lives of anyone with whom we come in contact with on this journey? The truth is that none of us know how long we have to live. The hour and minute of our last breathe is unknown to us. Only last year I experienced firsthand the fleetingness and unknown of living. The terrifying truth of having a beloved student there at his desk one minute, and gone only the next day. To some in the world, this is the tragic truth of the human reality. It’s a deadly, unchangeable end we must all encounter. Instead, when I'm reminded that none of us are promised a tomorrow, I think of those thirty-seven seconds. Life is full of thirty-seven seconds. They come and they go and we miss them more often than not. Thirty-seven seconds to smile, to laugh, to breathe, to hope, to be content… thirty-seven seconds to see an opportunity and not let it pass you by. Thirty-seven seconds to take a risk, to make a change, to feel pain and loss… thirty-seven seconds to realize you are not alone in the world.
“Thirty-seven seconds, well used, is a lifetime.”
One piece of advice I've given all students in my first two years of teaching is “Don’t wish away your high school years.” I give this advice, not because I think high school is going to be the best four years of their lives. It definitely won’t be. I don’t say it because I think when they get into college they're going to miss being in high school. Most of them won't. I don’t give this advice because of some selfish desire that they’ll look back and remember their high school English teacher who inspired them and told them to appreciate what they had. I give my students this advice because of thirty-seven seconds. High school will come to an end for all of them. I hope, for all of them, it's with a diploma in their hand. Even if it isn’t with a diploma, everyone’s high school career will end. I tell my seniors, especially, not to wish away their senior year because I know if they took the opportunity to make the most of every thirty-seven seconds of those last 180 days they could change the world. No, perhaps not in the broad sense of changing the universe or the ultimate course of human history. But I assert, without a doubt, that high school is full of thirty-seven second occasions that could change someone’s life.
High school is unique if nothing else. Never again will you get such a broad variety of passions, talents, backgrounds, and interests. Even in college students will likely fall in with people of similar majors or interests. I simply want my students to see that wishing away their high school career doesn’t make it go by any faster… it just makes the time in between living in it and leaving it all the more meaningless and unremarkable. High school WILL end. High school DOES end. But what each person chooses to do with their words and actions during the in-between of all those years can be astonishingly abysmal.
Do I wish I was back in high school? No. Do I sometimes wonder how I could have impacted the lives of those around me differently by seeing school as a full thirty-seven second opportunity as opposed to a four year aimless obligation? Absolutely, 100%. The good news is, I have more thirty-seven seconds to fill with a lifetime of opportunity. Amidst my time, I try and pass on this idea not to wish away "the now" in light of what we view as the “better thing” coming next. Thirty-seven seconds comes and goes in a blink of an eye. High school ends. College ends. Life ends. And you can fill your life up with empty thirty-seven seconds of waiting for that current moment to end… or you can say, I have thirty-seven seconds to make someone else’s life better. I have thirty-seven seconds to leave a legacy in this instant. It’s thirty-seven seconds to pray. Thirty-seven seconds to forgive… to love…to say thank you. It’s thirty-seven seconds to breathe and live and move in a way you never have before.
“Thirty-seven seconds, well used, is a lifetime.”
It starts now… so what are you going to do with it?
2 Peter 3:8