Making Use of Time

In The Best American Science Writing 2008, there is a rather moving New York Times article by Amy Harmon, “Facing Life With a Lethal Gene.” The medical feature traces the consequences of a decision made by Katharine Moser, who at age 23 decided to be genetically tested to find out whether or not she would be stricken with Huntington’s disease later in her life. Her grandfather suffered for three decades before passing on; with one test, she would find out whether or not such a fate awaited her.

As it turns out, it does. As you can imagine, such a situation makes one question the nature of existence. By the age of 50 (and possibly as early as 37), Moser will begin a slow deterioration marked by forgetfulness and, over time, loss of control of many muscle movements. The article brings into question the nature of knowledge: is it better to know that one will be afflicted with such an illness, or put it aside and live one’s life? There is no simple answer to this very complex question, though it brings up a scenario all of us must face.

While the knowledge of an impending disease is a frightening prospect for anyone, the fact remains that every one of us will die. This brings up an even more pressing question, one that Moser herself confronted the moment she found out the results: how are we to spend the time we have while alive?

Every day we have a decision, and that is what to make of our day. In reality, we can’t look further than that, and it is often the anxiety of the future that weighs heavily upon us. While we each have that choice, the passing of a year is a communal ritual to remind us of the preciousness of time, making this the perfect week to meditate on such a topic.

Being someone who engages in physical activity every day, at times I come across people who tell me things like, “I’d like to work out more often, but I don’t have the time," or, “If I had the time, I’d eat more healthfully.” And I always reply with the same answer: if you don’t have the time, who does? Who is it so in control of your time that you no longer have any say in it?

Stories like that of Katharine Moser are reminders that sometimes some of us really won’t have control of our time as we may like. But it is an inspiring piece, and she is an inspired figure, for she refuses to lose the time she has. (You can find out more about her by reading the article.) This is a resolution applicable to us, all the time — to be engaged with and in control of every moment of our lives. Nobody can make use of our time better than we can, so best to use it to the best of our abilities.

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