Saturday, March 6th, 2021

O Shopper Columns


When front porches were in fashion, people never kept clocks there. At the end of a busy day, time spent relaxing on the front porch was, in a sense, time away from time. Clocks were things kept inside, and though wristwatches may have been in fashion, when sitting on the front porch, time was measured lazily by observing the setting of the sun, the rising chorus of the cicada, the appearance of fireflies and the gradual cooling of the night air.

Like most Americans, I don't live in a house with a front porch. We do, however, have a huge side porch that provides a fantastic view of the Pagan River beyond our backyard and a pretty decent view of our street. On warm evenings from spring through the fall, my partner, Carey, and I, eat dinner on the side porch and watch the sunset over the river. From the front street, we're visible to the occasional neighbor who passes by walking their dog or jogging. In the last few years, dinner on our porch has become my favorite part of the day. But as relaxing as we find this daily ritual, we are still plugged into our devices, and thus, the digital measurement of time. Quite unexpectedly, that recently changed for a day.

That day was July Fourth.

Somehow, I mistakenly turned the setting on my phone's alarm clock from a.m. to p.m. There was no blast of digital music to wake us up at 7:30 that morning. We gradually returned to consciousness sometime closer to 9:00 a.m. Since we didn't need to be at work, we didn't so much walk from the bedroom to the kitchen as drift. We fixed breakfast and retreated to the side porch to eat and read the newspaper.

Two hours later, we began to feel as if we should be "doing something." After all, it was a holiday- and one should always "do something" on holidays. Just as we were gathering up our dishes to head back inside, two neighbors appeared in the side yard. An older couple who we used to see in passing regularly, they were driving down the street when they saw us sitting on the porch. Since they hadn't spoken to us in over a year, they decided to pull into our drive and pay us a visit.

As much as I like them, my default reaction was an internal groan: we needed to head inside, shower, and then do whatever we were going to do that day. Nevertheless, we put the dishes back on the table and sat down in our chairs. They joined us and began happily sharing with us news of their recent surgeries as well as hip, knee, and foot problems.

And it was totally enjoyable! We had a delightful visit for about an hour. After they went on their way, we drifted back inside, showered, dressed and got in the car- ready to "do something."
We never really decided what that something was to be. We drove over to the Peninsula, then up Route 17 with no particular destination in mind. The weather was hot, but the sky was gorgeous blue, and the patches of rural landscape along 17 were lovely.

Somehow, we ended up driving through Gloucester Courthouse, a charming, scenic historic hamlet where a Richmond couple that we know has a home. We wondered if we should stop by without calling first? We decided to follow the example of our neighbors that morning and dropped in unannounced, resulting in several hours of relaxing, fun conversation that they enjoyed as much as we did.

On a roll, we next dropped in unannounced on some family members in York County, and the visit was a complete joy. How long we were there, I couldn't say. An hour and a half? Two hours? We hadn't checked the time since waking up that morning.

Nowadays, it is difficult to unplug from clocks, calendars, and forms of communication that distract us from our physical surroundings and those who are there with us. I don't think I'm alone when I say that during my waking hours, I'm continually aware of a subtle anxiety- something like a low-grade fever- that causes me to think about what I should be doing, could be doing, or will soon be doing. We tend to think of the present moment as something to be used, spent, or invested in the future.

But the present moment should be enjoyed and savored for its own sake.

Life is the present moment.

Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouth’s official channel) since 2011.