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In the novel My Name Is Asher Lev, a young Hasid repeatedly dreams of his holy mythic ancestor thunderously accusing him of dawdling: "What are you doing with your time, my Asher Lev?" I've lived with a similar spur. Where I grew up, the apostolic directive to redeem the days held sway as long as one had wits. A few years ago a woman who doesn't know how young I am asked me about retirement. "What are you going to do with your leisure?" Her vocabulary startled me: leisure as a synonym for time. I stammered and said something about not really understanding the question.

For a few hours last week I flitted between hand-crafting Christmas gifts and clearing out a stack of accumulated paperstuffs. Suddenly I stared at the back of an old magazine. Four distinct photos depicted a campus lawn: spring, summer, fall, winter. The scenes framed a perfectly centered rendition of Ecclesiastes 3:1: "For everything there is a season … ." As I read the unfamiliar translation, the King James—The Byrds'—Version slipped out of its hiding place in my heart. "A time to every purpose under heaven." I winced, sensing the phrase mocked my unfocused attempts to reconcile disparate impulses—to seed the future and weed the past. My forte is making a purpose for every time.

I'm self-employed as a wordsmith. My workload is light this month, which means I touch the hem of worry about the distant future. Will clients still need me … when I'm sixty-four? But there's the more immediate issue of what to do with Thursday. Do I build paragraphs I hope someone will read? Do I contact potential markets? Do I delete files or shred documents? E. B. White purportedly admitted he sometimes had a hard time planning his day; he couldn't ...

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