010: “I Just Don’t Have Time”

In This Episode: “I just don’t have time” is the modern mantra. And I’m here to tell you why that’s total B.S. Because if you apply Uncommon Sense to the time problem, that turns out to not be the problem you think it is.

010: “I Just Don’t Have Time”

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Show Notes

  • To help support Uncommon Sense, see the Patron’s Page, or the form in the sidebar.
Ruth in early 2014, when she was a mere 104 years old. (Photo: Minneapolis Public Schools)
  • My buddy Leo Notenboom and I both liked Ruth Knelman’s story: she is also featured on Leo’s Not All News is Bad today.
  • The story of blood and plasma donor James Harrison was told in Episode 8: The Man with the Golden Arm.
  • I tell some of my stories as a volunteer medic (in text) in my blog: they’re gathered in the category EMS Stories.
  • My meme site that I mentioned is Randy’s Random.
  • If you’re a volunteer or perform other service yourself, please briefly tell other listeners in the Comments below what you do, maybe to spark an idea for them.


“I just don’t have time” is the modern mantra. And I’m here to tell you why that’s total B.S. Because if you apply Uncommon Sense to the time problem, that turns out to not be the problem you think it is. I’m going to tell you how to get more out of putting time in.

I’m Randy Cassingham, welcome to Uncommon Sense.

This week I want to tell you about Ruth Knelman — Knelman is spelled with a K, which I mention so maybe you can visualize her a little bit better. If that doesn’t work, I have a photo on the Show Page. Born in New York, and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Ruth, her husband Edward, and their young son moved back to the United States for his job, settling in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Edward was a traveling salesman, and Ruth found she had a lot of time on her hands. Rather than just sit around the house, she decided to become a volunteer, first at her son’s school.

She has been doing it since, even though her son long ago grew up, and Edward has died. She has done many things over the years: she taught other women at her synagogue how to cook, and is known especially for her brisket and kugel. She volunteered at the old Mount Sinai Hospital for 32 years — until it closed in 1991. These days she mostly volunteers at pre-schools — eight of them — where she reads to the kids, and helps the teachers hand out snacks. The kids call her “Grandma Ruth”.

“She’s not a pushover,” said kindergarten teacher Christine Sedesky. “When she passes out snacks, the kids must respond with ‘yes, please’ or ‘no, thank you.’” You know, the kinds of basics that children should learn at home, but very often don’t these days. “I wanted to do some good,” Ruth said. “People are so involved in their own lives. You can’t be all for yourself.”

So the first step in Ruth’s story of Uncommon Sense is her attitude: she had a fundamental understanding that the world doesn’t revolve around her, and it’s incumbent on us all to do something to give back. Ruth has been giving back for quite some time now.

“At her age, it’s incomprehensible that she can do everything that she does,” says her son Kip, who is now 69 years old himself. You may be counting on your fingers right now: Kip being 69 pretty much implies that Ruth is somewhere around 89. But no, she isn’t. She’s 108. That’s right, 108: Ruth was born in 1910, the year that Lee de Forest made the first radio broadcast in the United States — there in New York, where Ruth was born. The year that the Boy Scouts of America was founded by William Boyce. The year that commercial freight was first shipped by airplane — delivered by a pilot employed by the Wright Brothers.

Ruth still lives alone, in the same apartment where she has lived for 40 years. And like just about every centenarian that ever lived, reporters like to ask what her secret is to such a long life. “I do everything wrong,” Ruth says. “You won’t find anything diet or healthy in my house.” Exercise, maybe? “No way,” she says, though she admits that she walks a lot, since she has never owned a car. She doesn’t sleep eight hours a night, or make a point of drinking eight glasses of water every day — but she does get her liquids: mostly coffee and scotch.

Her friends say her real secret is her mindset — or, as I put it a minute ago, her attitude. Her son Kip says it this way: “A lot of people worry, especially about things they can’t control. My mom doesn’t get too stressed over anything. She just really enjoys life.”

And how does she do that? Well, for 65 years now, Ruth has made it her policy to get out and volunteer every week. She calls herself a “perpetual volunteer.” Why? She said it already: “I wanted to do some good. People are so involved in their own lives. You can’t be all for yourself.” And, she says, “Nothing bothers me too much. I always say no matter whatever I have or will have, somebody’s got it worse.” And then she adds, “But people, the way they complain….” Hah!

Kip says Ruth enjoys life, and I’m sure that’s true. He says she doesn’t get stressed, and I know that’s true. I’ll bet that her 65 years of volunteering, making sure a child gets a head start, or a hospital patient feels a little better knowing someone cares, is why. I like that when she’s with children, she also teaches some manners, which helps refine those kids as human beings. Which, I’m here to tell you, absolutely does help to kindle their Uncommon Sense. (Yeah, being polite figures in to Uncommon Sense!)

Volunteering doesn’t have to be something complex: it could be reading stories to preschoolers. It could be getting certified as a medic, and carrying a pager 24 hours a day to allow yourself to be called out anytime to rush to help someone get through the worst day of their lives. OK, that’s kind of complex. How about giving blood or plasma, like James Harrison did, as discussed two weeks ago in Uncommon Sense episode 8? And did you know that 69 percent of firefighters in the United States are volunteers? It’s true! Where would we be without them?

People with Uncommon Sense think about this stuff. And part of the result of that is we actually work make it easier for people like, say, volunteer firefighters, to help us, like keeping an eye on the rear-view mirror to get the heck out of the way when a fire truck is coming up behind us. You never know, they could be going to your house!

Here are some other examples. A good friend not only frequently drives to an appointment to spend 90 minutes letting a clinic take his plasma by apheresis, but is also on call with a technical rescue organization covering not just his town, not just his county or region, but his entire state — an organization that began because… well, no one else was doing it. The lesson there: you can make your own volunteer opportunities. Something you really enjoy. Something you’re good at!

My brother plays in the band at special events at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in his city, not because my brother is a Veteran of a Foreign War, but rather because he didn’t have to go and fight overseas because other men and women did! Yeah: that creates a debt too, and he’s paying it, and I respect the hell out of him for that. My other brother? Before he was married, he was a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, because 1 in 3 kids grow up without a mentor. And my brother then mentored that boy’s younger brother, because …the older boy died, and my brother and his brother went through the grieving process together. Now that’s volunteering, and making the world a better place, rather than “being all for themselves.”

But I started this episode by saying the modern mantra, “I just don’t have time,” is B.S. Yeah, I get it: I run my own business, I’m a busy guy. I put out a pretty lengthy newsletter every week, record and publish two different weekly podcasts, create memes for my meme site, serve on the Boards of a couple of local service agencies — and tether myself to a pager 24 hours a day, ready to be called out at any time to rush to help someone get through the worst day of their lives.

Volunteering is part of the way I give back, because I’ve benefited from the toil of others, whether it was neighbors paying their taxes so I could go to good schools, firefighters who came rushing to my aid when we called, or someone running a club so that I could learn to do public speaking: what I’m doing here right now definitely didn’t come naturally to me. And, by the way, I met my wife in Toastmasters, which has been there to help people learn speaking and leadership since 1924 — you know, when Ruth was 14!

The thing is, we choose to take that time. Uncommon Sense tells us all that, when something is important to you, you make time for it. How do my wife and I do that? In large part by not watching TV. The few shows we do want to watch are recorded, so we can fit them in when it’s convenient for us. It’s like when I decided I wanted to quit my Day Job and go into publishing full time. How did I get that started, when I already had a full time job? I made time by moving closer to work so I wouldn’t have to waste two hours every day, or more, commuting in Los Angeles traffic.

When something is important to you, you make time for it, and volunteering is important. And let me tell you, volunteers get a lot out of putting that time in. Think about this: over 65 years, Ruth read not just to a bunch of kids, but then their kids, and probably then their kids. Can you imagine how satisfying that would be? It’s important to her, so she makes time to do it. And yes, Ruth is still at it: at 108, she still volunteers every week. If she can do it, I can. If I can do it, you can: and I can tell you from first-hand experience: you get a lot out of putting that time in. Don’t tell me you don’t have time for it: you could if you made time. And if your time really is so valuable you “can’t” just give your time away? Well, then you’re way ahead of the curve, and should be giving back by donating plenty of money to help others fight fires, help kids, show up at hospitals, or otherwise make the world you live in a better place. It’s part of being a human being.

It sounds paradoxical, but think about it: it’s actually Uncommon Sense. As Ruth said recently, “You know what? Everybody helps me.” Which is her way of saying, you get a lot out of putting the time in. She turns 109 in May, and I’m going to venture she’ll still be volunteering.

The Show Notes for this episode are at thisistrue.com/podcast10, where you can also comment and, if you’ve been volunteering, tell us about what you do: if nothing else, maybe it will spark some ideas for other listeners who don’t want to be a medic, or a firefighter, or are uncomfortable around children.

I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.

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5 Comments on “010: “I Just Don’t Have Time”

  1. Making time takes discipline. I struggle with making time because I allow myself to be distracted. I’m still working on that.

  2. Every so often, you have to sit down and re-evaluate your life, your goals, and your activities, because it’s so easy for those things to get away from you without even realizing. As my husband said just yesterday, “The problem with life is that living gets in the way!”

    Not too long ago, I ran across the goals list that we had made in the first month after our wedding 27 years ago. A few we had actually accomplished. More we had let go because our lives had turned in some unexpected directions. Just at this moment, our lives are rather chaotic: one son still in college, my husband continuing his own education to get a better job, and me trying to figure out how to keep us all moving forward as a family without splintering into a dozen different directions as we continue to search for our own niches in life.

    I want to thank you for your podcast, because it brought home to me that the time has come to sit down, revise our goals list, and carve out some time for myself so that I can do some more volunteer work as I used to do when my life wasn’t quite so chaotic. God’s Pantry Food Bank, wait for me — I’m coming back!

    So many don’t even think about their long-term goals, let alone write them down and revisit them later. Good for you! -rc

  3. I’ve been a volunteer of some sort for the last 50 years or so, starting from my Boy Scout days. I even got the honor of being a volunteer firefighter for a while; inspired by Kurt Vonnegut of all people.

    I currently have two volunteer gigs, plus a pretty busy full-time job. (I still find the time for myself, though!) But as I near retirement, I’m looking for new opportunities. As my wife reminds me daily, keys to a long life are keeping your body moving, exercise your brain, and be social. All of these things are accomplished by the simple act of finding some person or some group that needs help, and giving your time to them. It sounds like Ms. Knelman has discovered this secret, to great effect.

    Your wife is very wise! -rc

  4. I live in Cookeville, TN and I’m the Emergency Coordinator for Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) and we mainly serve Putnam County EMA. We do a lot of SKYWARN work for our community.

    Before I moved to Tennessee in 1998 I volunteered as an EMT for Grahamsville Ambulance in Grahamsville, NY.

    I fully understand the frustration of time as I own my own business also. I also volunteer to help any “Ham” that need help, whether it be put up an antenna or just learn a new mode.

    Nice! Skywarn is really important stuff: since 1965, volunteers, especially ham radio operators, relay information to weather forecasters of severe weather conditions. There’s a nice article about it on Wikipedia. -rc

  5. My activities are likely the same as other Mothers through their children’s lives — room Mother at school, Cub Scout leader, Den Mother, Sunday School teacher.

    And through my community as a Social Ministries Committee member at my church and a gardener at our local Lighthouse park to name a few things. It is the kind of things that we all should be a part of and volunteering is good for us as well as helpful to others.


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