I am aware, always, of what time it is in St. Paul. We are seven hours ahead in Berlin. I sit down to work when most of our friends are going to bed; I sometimes post blogs in the middle of their night’s sleep, and am thoroughly into my work day when they are waking up.
I see them blinking awake via chat on Facebook—I don’t mean to, but in my online grazing I can’t help but notice who rises before dawn and who the night owls are. I’m surprised to find a handful of insomniacs among them.
There was a morning last fall when I saw signs of three rowers’ wakefulness before 5 a.m., and imagined them each heading to the river, and could not avoid a sting of rejection knowing I might have joined their quad, were I not here.
Emails that arrive around lunchtime for me suggest someone back home firing off a message before breakfast, or in between waking kids for school times and sending them out the door. Not a day goes by that I can let go of this anchor, this heavy clock that tips me ever westward, toward home.
For three weeks in fall and three weeks in spring we were just six hours apart, as daylight savings comes earlier in the US than here. I missed a work call just after the US time shift, home’s 9 a.m. signifying 3 p.m., not 4 p.m., for me.
Now we’re back to the seven hours I’ve come to embrace, and once again an early morning conference call for them is an end of day call for me. I tried to arrange a call with a woman in California, nine hours ahead, and never did find a mutually agreeable time, her too early to my too late.
I remember three days I once spent with a friend on the coast of Spain during our semester in France. For our spring break we’d headed south, searching for a warmer sun. It was around this time of year, when the cold damp of Tours sent us packing for Spain.
Her idea, not mine: We would live without time in our spare hotel on the coast, swearing off the conventions of the hour. We took off our watches and willed ourselves to ignore clocks on church towers and on shop walls. We rose with the sun, ate when we were hungry, and went to bed when drowsiness struck.
It was a captivating spell, living as if time didn’t matter, if only for a moment. We slept well, deep and long, in tune with the rhythms our bodies wanted to keep. I haven’t felt that freedom again; I don’t recall feeling it before our experiment, and certainly never since.
Here it’s the school start times that crank up our day, wind us up and set us in motion. We’re hemmed in by Schüli pickup times and row schedules, unable to let go of the silent, ticking clock.
Yet every day is like a gift, seven hours to work while St. Paul sleeps, an extra day every day, and when St. Paul sits down to work, I’m shutting down my home office, finally opening the front door and smelling the outdoor air of Berlin, eager to see what’s happening.
Meanwhile my heart strains for what it believes is real time. To think that a mere plane ride will one day cancel out those seven hours, roll up the dissonance hour by hour. Traipse across the ocean and find time stitched neatly back together, as if this year never happened.