Tennessee Williams: Time Is The Gift

Tennessee Williams
New Orleans

I once believed that my primary obsession was with time, and for many years I felt that I shared this obsession with most people. As I aged and constricted, my primary obsession was with time, and, as I told you, I began to have nightmares in which I was being taunted and squeezed by an enormous serpent, clad in glistening scales, and what I was being gripped in and by was a time knot: Time and the very world in which I lived was shrinking, pushing closer in on me, shutting off movement, air, possibilities.

My primary obsession is with time.

All of us have this obsession, and all of us have our unique means of dealing with it.

Someone, centuries ago, crafted a calendar, and without this device, I believe that we would not be able to function. Our identities cannot be discerned--much less designed--until we understand where we are, so if I didn't know that it was 1982, I could not know that five years ago, I was struggling with Vieux CarrĂ© or that twenty years ago, I was coasting on my final Broadway success, The Night of the Iguana, or that thirty years ago, I was flush with so many things as the film of Streetcar kept opening on screens around the world. I know where I am. I can see a chart of sorts, like we had on blackboards in school, letting me know my progress, or lack of it. It is not always good news, but it gives me some sense of identity. I think we have to know that it's a Wednesday in 1982, and I think we have to know that an event is coming up in ten days, and we have to create events--parties, weddings, affairs--so that we can continue to do what we do and find a reward--in time, in pleasure--at the conclusion of this thing we call living.

Someone, centuries ago, crafted religion, because the brutality of reality was simply too much. I honestly think that all of us would go mad if we believed that this identity, this time, in which we live was our only shot. So we invented religion or faith or some alternate identity to give us hope and to give some meaning to our progress here. So we believe that a better existence awaits us in Heaven, an existence without pain or lack or isolation. So we believe that in another life, we may return as a soaring eagle or a King or a movie star or a leek. Another adventure to supplement this meager identity we currently inhabit. Religion, like the calendar, alters time, gives it a meaning it does not possess on its own. These are artistic creations of man.

Someone, centuries ago, discovered weeds and berries and leaves in the woods that altered time and identity, and drugs, and chemicals and herbs were introduced into the recipe of existence. I have been deep into this experiment, and alcohol and various drugs have entered my brain and allowed to believe almost anything. They have allowed me to alter time, to alter my identity, to believe in things, no matter how fantastic or futile. In the time in which I am in the grip either of the time knot or of chemical seduction, I am in control--or so I think--of time.

Someone, centuries ago, threw a shadow on a wall and had a friend or a partner. Someone drew something on a wall or on the ground, and people marveled that another identity, in another time, existed right there. I think, from my studies and my smarter friends, that this was the invention of art, or theatre, and we once again had new identities and through them we gave names and significance to earlier times and to our own. In understanding people, we understand our times and our ourselves. This alters time. This gives us time.

What I have managed to offer to you today is a sort of confession, and like all confessions it answers no questions--it merely raises many more. But what I am trying to tell you--and myself--is that the great gift, the pearl of great price, is time. We seek all the other things, but those things only alter or identity time. What I'm saying is that all the other things we seek merely burnish or lighten time, the great gift, so I would suggest for us both, two hopeful people, that we seek to honor and to husband the time we have; that we offer what time we have to others, whose time is cloudy or limited; that we walk gently and honestly through the time we are allowed.

Everyone to whom I have said goodbye--by which I mean the eternal adios--wanted more time, even in the wracked and destroyed bodies in which they were experiencing it. I want more time. I need more time.

Time is the gift. Seek it. Give it. Cherish it. Prolong it.

©2013 by James Grissom


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