Thursday, July 16, 2015 11:12 AM
Time sucks. We’re always waiting for something to end—when we’re not waiting for something to begin. And then, when it’s happening, we either wonder how long we can hope it will last or when it will finally be over. If time isn’t stretching out interminably into the distance, it’s contracting to a sliver in which we haven’t time to take a breath.
The only time we are truly happy is when we find ourselves outside of time—so focused on someone or something that we don’t even think about the passage of time. We always come out of such experiences wondering how much time has passed, or surprised at how much or how little time has gone by. Time is very strict and a person would be a fool to ignore it—which makes it very hard to get outside of that pressure, and why we love to escape from time’s grasp.
Our obsession with time is paradoxical. We call games ‘pastimes’ because they ‘help us’ pass the time. ‘Diversions’, too, while helping us escape the cold bareness of reality, also help speed the passage of empty moments. While we often wish we had more time for one thing or another (and we are certainly in no hurry to reach the end of our time) we spend a lot of our lives trying to lose our awareness of our sequential voyage from one moment to the next.
Time is elastic—but, seemingly, never in our favor. Hard times seem to drag on—good times are always over too soon. Whenever we are truly uncomfortable time will seem to literally stand still. Whenever we are in the throes of pure bliss, it seems to end before it’s even fully begun.
I love T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” because it explores the mystery of time:
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”
Memory, as well, is explored—another elastic paradox having to do with time. Yet memory is nearly instantaneous—we don’t need the same amount of time for a memory that we need for the original event. How does our brain remember something that happened for hours, or days, without spending more than a moment to do it?
Still, even in physics, time can be measured to the micro-second—but it retains its elasticity through the mechanism of relativity. Einstein says, ‘the faster we move, the slower time goes’. But relativity only pertains in relation to something else—in our solitude, time has no relativity, it simply goes on.
In life, we get two breaks—we don’t have to deal with any of the time before we are born, and we needn’t concern ourselves with time after we die. It’s odd that something so central to our lives is almost non-existent outside of our lifelines. That’s why the subject of history is a choice—we can, if we’re interested, study the times that preceded our existence—but we don’t have to. History can’t be changed—but it is easily ignored.
My interest in time was purely academic in my youth—but now I can’t help obsessing over the differences made by my long illness. Most people have a childhood, a school period, an adult career, and retirement. But for me the period most of my peers spent having a career was spent being severely ill, at times flirting with death. Had my life been a few years earlier, I would have died when I was half the age I am now—but due to progress in medicine, my illness was cured and I returned to a ‘normal’ life in my late fifties. But there’s nothing normal about a life that has such a strong similarity to the tale of Rip Van Winkle. He had a little trouble with time, too.
I was oddly happier when on death’s doorway than I am now—back then I saw things through a hazy half-awareness, lost between my lack of short-term memory and the blur of anti-depressants—and other drugs too numerous to catalog. Now that I’m somewhat straight, somewhat aware, and somewhat active, I find myself going from TV to piano to computer to front yard. To cycle through those four lonely choices, sometimes several times a day, becomes a threadbare existence so repetitive that it threatens to lose all meaning.
There are many examples in history of great people whose childhood was sickly, solitary, or otherwise troubled and lonely—and that translated into strengths in later life. There are even more examples of people whose later years became shrunken and cut-off, with nothing but memories of past excitement. But these are relatively natural occurrences.
There’s nothing so unnatural and disorienting as having the ‘hole in one’s life’ be smack in the middle of it. It cancels out any of the inertia from one’s beginning—and it leaves no running room to get up to speed for what’s to come. Just as an example—try job-hunting with a resume that’s blank from 1991 on—it’s hard enough to get hired at the age of fifty-nine, going on retired.
The only silver lining is that I’m able to read again. I get tired quickly and I have to use an index card/bookmark to keep track of the characters’ names when I read the really big books, more than 800 pages, that I love the most. But it’s summer—which means that my TV is showing over 300 channels of garbage and re-runs until September—so having my favorite diversion available again is a real godsend.
Still, I was at such loose ends today that I played three separate improvs on the piano—morning, afternoon, and evening. I hope you find that they help pass the time.