I’m sprinting down Garden Street, a little out of breath, laptop case bumping awkwardly at the hip. My eyes glanced sideways at Harvard Square’s all-knowing digital clock, checking the time and groaning inside. A meeting at Currier started five minutes ago and I live in Adams. “I...can...make...it,” I tell myself between inhales. Cambridge Common flies by.
Jay-jogging my way through the next stoplight, the SOCH is nearly within view. Using up that last ounce of Veritaffle-powered energy, I arrive and apologize profusely. As I catch my breath, the people I’m meeting grant their forgiveness and we get started. The thing is, the business of being late has become a habit of mine and this isn’t the first time it’s posed a problem.
The earliest incident of tardiness I can recall took place one otherwise clear and sunny morning in seventh grade. The school bus was pulling away, flashing its yellow backside as it lumbered over the hill a few blocks from my house. Though it had clearly come and was already leaving, I chased in pursuit, and the kindly driver took pity on me and put the behemoth of a vehicle in reverse, all the way to the bottom of the hill.
Catching the bus became a daily struggle, but my battle had just begun. In high school, I was late to first period, even the rallies I helped run. Friends would complain about delayed dinners, movie dates, and missed breakfasts. I would experience remorse on each occasion, but its effects would fade by the next day as I hit the snooze button or lost track of time. Although I knew it was wrong to keep people waiting and take up their time, I thought that others found the flaw endearing rather than annoying. Often, I would compensate by buying everyone bagels—carbs are, after all, always in high demand.
Before a recent group dinner party taking place at 6 p.m., one of my friends wrote, “For Li, it starts at 3:15.” While his message was meant to kid, his rationale for writing was serious. I had become known as “that girl,” used to rushing, running from place to place. Though I still experienced the pangs of guilt, I realized that this attitude, this flaw had become not just part of my life, but a major factor in it. I had no idea how I could change.
The solution seems simple—get a watch, wake up on time, and leave for things early instead of when they start. But like most problems that require intervention, a 12-step program oversimplifies matters. Despite an intent to engage in punctual behavior, my execution has continued to be lacking over the years.
Others have tried to catalyze action with mixed results. As a cabin counselor for fifth graders, I was once the target of an elaborate scheme by my 10-year-old campers who moved our cabin clock 15 minutes forward while I was sleeping. They were tired of getting to arts and crafts after all the good popsicle sticks had been claimed.
Despite the fact that those wilderness explorers were many years my junior, they had a precocious method to their madness. They recognized that missing out on the best materials during arts and crafts does no one any favors. As a tardy cabin leader, I wasn’t doing them any favors either.
Instead, I was falling into a perennial pattern I’d set for myself, one which subconsciously made me feel special because it was something others remembered me for. For six years now, going places on an extended version of Harvard time has been my trademark.
It’s a habit I’ve held onto because being late has always seemed easier than being on time, no matter how it affected those around me. Though people still joke about it and deem it an amusing quality, I’ve come to realize that it’s a characteristic I need to overcome to improve my relationships with those around me.
In many ways, this punctuality debacle has supplied me with a trove of comedic tales to relate about chasing down shuttles and dinner dates, stories I am known for. Three years after hanging out with those fifth graders, it’s time I start working towards being known for something that they can actually consider cool. Messing up their opportunity to build the most epic popsicle stick wigwam definitely does not fit the definition of that word.
Li S. Zhou ’12 is an economics concentrator in Adams House. Running to the quad is a big part of her marathon training.