Thinking Time

Like most/many/some/several/a few (take your pick) Americans, I’ve been rising early and retiring late to watch the 2022 Winter Olympics. However, perhaps because of the nefarious  politics of the host nation, or maybe because I’m not much of a winter sports enthusiast, but, for whatever reason, I’ve not been quite as glued to the television as in years past. Except for curling. Curling is brilliant: it’s graceful and serene but with bursts of frenetic activity; it’s slow yet still dramatic, both spontaneous and strategic, intense but oddly whimsical, too. But perhaps most importantly, curling is a sport that borders on the cutting edge of philosophy—a sport for thinkers!

Now I’m not sure I really understand all that curling entails, but I do know this: curling’s “thinking time” is a genius idea, as long overdue in athletic competition as it is in life. Here’s how thinking time works in Olympic curling: a time clock operates while each team deliberates its next shot; a team’s clock stops when that team releases its stone (or rock) and it slides across the nearer tee-line. In Olympic competition, each team’s total allotment of thinking time is 38 minutes per match—or 22 minutes per match in Mixed Doubles competition. And don’t think for an extra minute that thinking time isn’t serious curling business. If a team runs out of its allotted thinking time before its last rock crosses the nearer tee-line, it automatically forfeits the game, no matter the score. Think about that!

History’s greatest thinker was undoubtedly Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture of the same name. The piece was originally designed to be part of the great bronze doors Rodin conceived for the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. The doors depicted the Gates of Hell and were based on Dante’s epic poem “The Divine Comedy.” In fact, “The Thinker” possibly represented Dante himself, lost in serious contemplation of his own great work. That the museum was never built, nor its doors ever cast, hardly matters, for as René Descartes, the father of French philosophy, was once heard to mutter, “Cogito ergo sum:” I think, therefore I am

But back to curling and it’s little ticking clock: thirty-eight minutes (or twenty-two minutes if you’re part of a mixed doubles team) of pure thinking time: what a genius addendum to a sport, or, for that matter, to life! How many marriages could have been saved with just a little more thinking time? How many wars avoided? How many hurtful words would have remained unspoken or pulled back and stored down in the basements of our minds if there had been a little more thinking time left on our mental clock? No wonder curling is fast on its way to becoming my new favorite Winter Olympics sport: it’s a sport in which participants are actually encouraged not just to perform, but to think!

But even while curling encourages thinking, it penalizes overthinking. That’s also part of curling’s philosophical genius. As much as I appreciate thinking time, I know a few people who always seem to exceed their thinking limit. They dilly and dally, wobble and dawdle, ultimately forfeiting the game without ever getting the opportunity to slide their rock down the ice. I suppose this infers there is a delicate balance between overthinking and not thinking at all, between inaction and reaction. You can let your clock tick down to zero, but you sure better be ready to launch before time runs out.

In his lifetime, Rodin made at least ten large castings of The Thinker. Upon his death in 1917, he ceded the rights to recast it to the nation of France. Since then, ten more castings have been made; you can see one at The National Gallery in Washington, or at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, or at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Or you can visit Rodin’s tomb in Meudon, France. Take your pick. 

There’s no doubt that “The Thinker” is a popular piece of art, perhaps because we see ourselves in that famous thoughtful pose and just can’t decide if he’s lost in deep thought or frozen in action. Hmmm…

Maybe The Thinker should take up curling.

I’ll be right back. At least I think I will…

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.

Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *