Bob Simpson: Bad time over DST

March 15, 2014 

My mother tried to bring me up to follow a few very clear moral guidelines. One she stressed was that I should never hate. As a child, I tried to abide by that rule, but every now and then life got to me. When my older sister or brother annoyed me, I was likely, being outgunned by them in every measure, to shriek impotently, "I hate you!" My mother would express her disappointment in me and repeat the lesson. I would promise to do better.

Were my mother still alive, I'm afraid she would be gravely disappointed again. Because I hate daylight saving time. Not just dislike it. Not just find it uncomfortable. I hate it. I hate it all year long, when it's here and when it's a bad dream from which I've just awakened, a nightmare that I know is already slipping around the calendar to assault me again. My hatred grows in those last few days when every chatterbox with access to a microphone and a TV camera delights in smirking and reminding me, endlessly, "Don't forget to set your clock forward an hour."

Sleep is, in my opinion, one of life's greatest blessings, a miracle of soothing, a rebooting of mind and spirit. MacBeth never spoke truer words than when he referred to it as "the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care." Shakespeare was not misspelling "sleeve," as I once thought, but was referring to a woven section of fabric, like the fabric of our lives. And we all have those raveled sleavesthat we desperately need to knit up. But just when my knitting is going at its best, I'm jarred awake an hour earlier than the time my body knows is correct, all because some knucklehead decided the clocks must be changed.

Looking around for the genesis of this madness, I first checked Facebook, half expecting to see an accusation that President Obama, following a Communist-Fascist-Muslim agenda, had invented Daylight Saving Time when he was a boy back in Kenya. I knew, of course, that DST had started long before he was born, but some of the most persistent anti-Obama posters are not bothered by such minor discrepancies. For once, though, there was no Facebook suggestion that the President was a sly, dumb, brilliant, stumbling, Machiavellian plotter, out to rob us of sleep.

Actually, although the basic idea of tinkering with time is a lot older than clocks, the first American to put forward the idea was Benjamin Franklin, which just goes to show that even brilliant people can come up with some terrible suggestions.

My first personal experience with this atrocity was during World War II. On February 3, 1942, the country went on what was then called "War Time." It was identical to DST. My daddy, genetically conditioned to oppose any government decision, didn't like it. For some reason, our teachers were told to poll the students to get a sampling of family reactions to the new time. I was prepared to vote as my parent would want me to, but at eight years old, I couldn't bring myself to hold up the only opposing hand. I guiltily voted with the crowd. When I told my parents, my dad was clearly unhappy with me, but I told myself he was just out of step. Now I know how right he was.

Various excuses are advanced for daylight saving time, depending upon the agenda of the apologist. Some say it saves electricity. Some say it gives children more play time. Some say it helps the tourist industry by giving adults more play time. And so on and so forth. As is often the case, more recent studies have brought these excuses into question. I claim no technical expertise in the matter. I know only that someone has stolen an hour of my sleep, and I want it back. Folks who choose to get up an hour earlier are free to change their own clocks and leave mine alone. But, no, they insist that mine be reset too, further raveling my sleave of care.

I really hate that.

Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."

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