Using Time Well

It is approximately 350 miles from the Sarasota/Bradenton area to Jackson County, Florida. My company has a contract with the Jackson County School District. Jackson County is in Florida’s panhandle, the most beautiful (in my opinion), and least visited part of our state. I make the trip at least once a month. On a good day, the trip takes me six hours each way. It costs approximately $91.00 round-trip (four tanks of gas and two stops at the Brooksville Wendy’s for a single hamburger, small chili, Dr. Pepper and a small Frosty). I am a Wendy’s man. My wife isn’t too jealous. I always come home to her.

On Thursday, October 12, 1865, Dr. Charles Hentz left his home in Quincy, Florida for a visit to some friends in the Sarasota/Bradenton area. Dr. Hentz was a very prominent Jackson/Gadsden County physician. He had never been to the Tampa Bay area. Hentz set out in the company of two friends and his former slave (now his paid servant and friend). Fortunately for us, Dr. Hentz was a prolific writer. He has left us a 620 page autobiography and diary. It is probably our best single window into life on the frontier of Florida in the mid-nineteenth century.

They reached Tampa on Wednesday, October 25. Averaging a steady 25 miles a day, it took them approximately two weeks to make the one-way trip. They followed the same basic route that I travel once a month. They faced hunger, storms, and hostile strangers (well, maybe the trips aren’t that dissimilar!). They lost their frying pan. This was a disaster as it kept them from easily cooking the squirrels they shot on the way.

And yes they also stopped at Brooksville, according to the map in his journal very close to the exact site of my Wendy’s. Surrounded there by a pack of wolves, they shuddered through the night, keeping their fire brightly burning. Rivers, creeks, and streams that I barely notice were major obstacles for them.

We think the economy is bad now, yet 1865 was post-war Florida and things were really tight. This is witnessed by a sign, noticed by Dr. Hentz that was nailed to a tree on the banks of the Suwannee River. Writing that, “The schoolmaster is evidently out down here,” Dr. Hentz couldn’t resist recording the sign verbatim in his diary: “enny pursan Can Cros the river at new troy at enny time as Chep as enny fary on the river for the manney, corn or mele or enny thing that I can yuse. Tomes walker his fary”

Dr. Hentz and friends enjoyed their sojourn in the Sarasota/Bradenton area (who wouldn’t?). They journeyed back to Quincy, gratefully arriving home in mid-November. Hentz kept meticulous financial records on the trip. The total round trip, including their stay in Bradenton, cost them $91.96. Does that sound familiar? Maybe times haven’t changed all that much!

Why do I tell you this tale of an obscure vacation trip in the mid-nineteenth century? Because, when I read it, I was really impressed with how much more time we have available to us today. Their difficult two-week trip takes me a delightful six hours.

Then I was hit with a twinge of guilt (remember I am Mennonite, so guilt comes easily!). I questioned myself on whether, with all my modern advantages, I have accomplished anywhere near as much as my friend, Dr. Hentz. He treated many patients (almost always after a long journey to their homes), wrote a 600 page book (with quill and ink while I am sitting here drinking tea and using my laptop), wrote over 100 treatises on “modern medicine,” was a Grand Master of his Masonic Lodge, lay-chair of his Methodist church, and recorded many wonderful day-long picnics with his family and friends. It seems that every other page of his diary has him enjoying a drink of lemonade on his veranda with some friend or family member. How did he do it all?

This is not a treatise on how we should do more or be busier. The good Lord knows I couldn’t stand that. It is, instead, the mere posing of a question. With all the blessings of our modern day conveniences how is it that we so often wish for more time to accomplish this or that?  Yet, how many of us reflect on the day’s events in diaries, enjoy lemonade, or regularly take day-long picnics with our families?

I enjoy Wendy’s. I have never encountered a wolf. I write with my laptop with cursor and pixels, not with quill and paper. I am growing a company not guiding a community. I drive my Ford above the rivers; I don’t cross the rivers at the ford (clever, huh?).  

I have so much more time; yet I seem to need so much more time. I use my chronograph to determine elapsed time and then have a fit at how much time has elapsed.

May God grant me the grace, wisdom, and judgment to use my time well. May I not be burdened by the need to achieve more things, but by the desire to achieve better things. May I have the passion not to climb the ladder for myself, but to hold the ladder for others. May I desire not to create taller buildings, but stronger foundations.

May God help me use my time well.

Amen and Amen