A Good Moment

“It’s 11:00 a.m. and have a good moment,” she said. At least that’s what I thought she said. She is not a real person but the voice of my Amazon Alexa device.

Thinking I must have misheard her, I turned off the running water and asked again, “Alexa, what time is it?” She replied, “It’s 11:00 a.m. and have a good morning.” “Morning. That makes more sense,” I thought.

But I couldn’t let have a good moment go. What a radical idea. Choosing to have a good day may not be realistic. Too many unforeseen circumstances stand in the way. But one has enough control over the moment to make a good one accessible. Then if one strings enough good moments together, a good day might be doable!

mō’-ment (noun) definition: 1. A very brief period of time (I’ll be with you in a moment.) 2. The present time (At the moment, I am busy.)

So how does one go about having a good moment? Three books on my shelves come to mind that might hold the key. (1) “On the Shortness of Life” by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Squandering the Moment); (2) James Joyce’s Ulysses (Stretching the Moment); and (3) The Holy Bible (Spending the Moment).

Seneca: Squandering the Moment

On the Shortness of Life, written by the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca (5 B.C.—65 A.D.), is a call to appreciate life and live it meaningfully.

“It is the sign of a great man,” Seneca wrote, “not to allow his time to be frittered away.” Seneca divides life into past, present, and future and reminds his readers that “In the present we have only one day at a time, each offering a minute at a time.”

The present moment, according to Seneca, “is extremely short… it is always on the move, flowing on in a rush; it ceases before it has come, and does not suffer any delay.” The following snippet from “The Time Machine” by H. G. Wells captures the transience of moments.

Medical Man: And you cannot move at all in Time, you cannot get away from the present moment.

Time Traveler: My dear sir, that is just where you are wrong. That is just where the whole world has gone wrong. We are always getting away from the present moment.

Seneca challenges the reader to “match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow.”

Some complain that there’s not enough time to do needful things. Others lament the shortness of life. The Psalmist groans that time goes by too quickly, and our lives “are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). Psalm 144:4 describes a man’s life as “a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”

But Seneca argues, “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.” According to Seneca, life is long enough, and we’re given a generous amount of it. But when we squander it on superficial activities and vices, “we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”

So, we make it short by wasting it, letting the moments slip by without a thought.  Seneca warns that your time “escapes you rapidly: for you do not grasp it or hold it back or try to delay that swiftest of all things, but you let it slip away as though it were something superfluous and replaceable.”

According to Seneca, to have a good moment one must apprehend the rapidity with which opportunities in time slip by, and resolve not to waste them

Joyce: Stretching the Moment

Irish novelist James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (1882—1941) presents time uniquely by stretching a single day to fill over 700 pages.

“Ulysses” follows its three central characters as they live hour by hour from 8:00 A.M., June 16, 1904, until the dawn of June 17, 1904. No less than 265,222 words covering twenty-four hours. Now that’s stretching time.

Joyce accomplishes this by filling each moment with the characters’ interactions, dialogue, and thought-provoking narrative. The pages contain no filler. He accounts for every moment.

Ulysses exemplifies Seneca’s philosophy that, relatively, idleness and wastefulness shrink time while using each moment expands time.

Although Joyce follows a detailed plan that begins each episode in the book at a particular hour, the clock doesn’t represent the only measure of time. The multifaceted experiences of the characters pack so much into the moments, that the reader can hardly fathom that it all happened in 24 hours.

A single sentence often stretches to a paragraph of a dozen or more lines without wasting words. Joyce’s method of seizing the moment and not easily letting it go seems to freeze time and expand the moments beyond what the clock announces.

A day seems like a lifetime to a child. Their time stretches because they fill their moments playing, exploring, and pretending. Day’s end finds toys scattered everywhere attesting to a long, long adventure that follows a child into a dream world where the day’s heroic deeds, not hours, define the day.

Some might argue, time goes by quickly, or shrinks, during busy hours, and crawls, stretches, during idleness. That’s true in the present. But looking back, squandered time creates unaccounted for gaps that shorten the time, and the impression emerges that life “appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). A life brimming with good moments makes for a long life irrespective of the calendar.

Stephen Dedalus, a bright young character in Ulysses, proposes that one should “hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.” Stretch the moment. That’s how to have a good moment, as found in Ulysses.

The Apostle Paul: Spending the Moment

The Apostle Paul departed from his usual itinerant schedule and stayed three years in Ephesus, a Greco-Roman city on the western coast of modern Turkey. Such was his ministry among the Ephesian Christians that when he left them for the last time, the church leaders wept as they accompanied him to the ship.

During his stay at Ephesus, the Apostle witnessed the city at its height, with a population of over 250,000. Three major roads led from the Ephesus seaport, making the city a thriving trade center. But Ephesus also hosted many cultic movements, including the worship of Artemis, a practice established during Greek rule.

With so many distractions, establishing a Christian community in Ephesus offered a formidable challenge. Paul addresses the matter of wasting time on frivolous pursuits in a letter he later wrote to the Church at Ephesus from his prison cell in Rome. No doubt word reached him that the many undesirable influences in Ephesus threatened to pull believers away from a more rewarding life.

Paul reminds his readers, in Ephesians 5:15-16, that because of the preciousness of time, they should not waste it.

Therefore, watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Paul chose the phrase redeeming the time carefully, knowing the Ephesians understood commerce in the marketplace. Redeeming originates from a Greek word meaning to buy or trade one thing for another. Here, Paul uses the word for getting the best bargain for spent time or turning time into a profit. By the days are evil, Paul calls attention to the limited allotment of days one has to trade in the marketplace of time.

Carl Sandburg wrote, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.”

Paul, Sandburg, and countless others picture individuals wandering through the marketplace, spending the coins of our moments for various things that result in making a profit or suffering a loss. Paul implores the Ephesians to spend their time wisely, for they have but a limited supply.

We spend the moment at hand wisely or wastefully. We can’t choose to not spend it. Neglecting the moment amounts to losing it altogether. Also, we cannot save time. The moment passes, and the coin disappears. The market place of time offers no refunds and no returns.

Author Richard Bach wrote, “I have spent my life to become what I am today; was it worth it?”

Having a good moment hinges on redeeming the time and making a good trade. Exchanging this moment for a mind-numbing TV program, fruitless wandering through the Internet, or searching the shops attempting to satisfy a craving for more material goods throws the coin to merchants eager to defraud you. Moments traded for bouts of anger, conflict, jealousy, regret, guilt, and other harmful exercises of the mind toss coins into the abyss.

With so many worthwhile, profitable, and satisfying commodities to purchase, it makes little sense to misspend the precious coins of our moments. Paul hopes that his readers make wise decisions as they trade in the marketplace of time. 

Understanding that our use of time corresponds to irreversibly trading a valuable coin for experiences makes the difference between merely spending a moment or discovering a way to have a good moment.

Ulysses, the Full Text
Ulysses, the Film
On the Brevity of Life, full text