I've been thinking lately about time, and what a strange thing it is. How it's so much a function of perception; there's nothing absolute about time. It
marches on; it stands still; it flies when you're having fun. An hour can
be an eternity sitting in a hospital waiting room: or two minutes when
trying to meet a deadline. Certainly, there are periods during which time
seems to be going by so quickly that it's almost inconceivable that another
week has come and gone and we still haven't become wealthy, or met the right
person, or gone to the dentist. How many have looked back at a month, this
past month, and wondered where it went
how could June be over so soon when I
only just flipped the page on my "Why We Love Dogs" calendar?
An entire season, like summer, can go by while we hardly notice; we never
have the huge pool party we'd dreamed about in February, or go to the beach,
or the Hollywood Bowl. And then, inexorably, we mourn the death of
How often have we experienced that absurd sense of déjà vu as we open the
boxes filled with ornaments, and struggle to untangle the lights in
preparation for yet another Christmas season, feeling, all the while, that
we just DID this
wasn't it only a few months ago?
A week, a month, each year seems to go so swiftly that it always astounds
me that my life, in fact, has gone so slowly. That's what I mean about time.
It contradicts itself. How else to explain all that I remember, and all that
the people, places, homes, jobs, loves, hates, fears, triumphs
over the years, the lives I've lived --not merely chapters in a life-- but
entirely different lives in entirely different places with a cast of
entirely different characters
how could all that have occurred if time went
by so quickly?
Rather, time in its totality must have moved leisurely, at a snail's pace
really, in order to allow for a whole life to unfold, my first life, and
then a new life --marriage and children-- a whole lifetime devoted just to THAT,
to them, and then another whole lifetime of struggle and relationships and
living together and living alone. And men loved, despised, discarded, dear
friends trusted, confided in, replaced, children turning into teenagers
turning into adults.
And then there's this life, this entirely different life, this
best of all my lives that sometimes seems to be the only life I've ever
known, but then when did all those other lives happen, and how could there
possibly have been enough time?
Time doesn't just contradict itself; often it fools us completely. Have
you ever watched one of those retrospective programs on The History Channel
or The Learning Channel or whatever when suddenly you find yourself
incredulous when you realize that we actually landed on the moon
before the first microprocessor was introduced, five years
before we had pocket calculators, ten years before we had the
Walkman? How did they do that?
Or, you're watching the news and suddenly it's the 10th anniversary of
the Gulf War, which means it happened before you met your husband,
which is completely impossible, or that O.J. killed Nicole
before you moved to your current home, but you're absolutely positive
you watched the whole ordeal right there in your living room. And John
Lennon was assassinated twenty years ago, the same year that MTV was born?
Didn't he make tons of videos? And how can time have gone by so quickly?
It's very tricky.
And now, we have added so much more to the mix that time is becoming even
more impossible to gauge, as though it wasn't difficult enough to begin
with. I remember distinctly (give or take a few years, since I obviously don't remember distinctly when anything happened) when fax machines were
first introduced, with those annoying rolls of slick paper. Everyone in the
office was overjoyed. We could now, for the first time, send a sketch, or a
first draft, or an estimate to our office on the east coast, or to a client,
and get immediate feedback. It was the answer to our prayers. It was only
after the excitement wore off that we realized that we should have been
careful about what we prayed for. No longer could we take the time to think
things out, to reconsider, and then, if necessary, blame the delay on the
mail or Federal Express; now we had to come up with answers faster than we
wanted to, sometimes faster than we had them.
But that, of course, was nothing compared to the digital age. The age of
e-mail. Attachments. Instant messaging. Now we can answer
immediately, getting accomplished in hours what it used to take us
days to do
requesting, receiving, responding, reacting
it all happens so
rapidly. And yes, often I bless this, feel like a child of this, adore the
instant gratification of this technology. How did I manage to accomplish
anything before? Now I can answer four e-mails --edit some copy, advise a
friend on her marriage, ask a vendor for some rates, tell a client we need
their photos today-- and hit SEND while I am writing my column, answering the
phone, and searching for information on Google; I'm multi-tasking and doing
it all at quadruple speed. Isn't life grand?
And yet I'm not sure how much we've gained and how much has been lost. In
quality. In taking the time to focus on one thing and massaging it until it's perfect. In knowing that no one expects an instant response, and in not
getting impatient when I don't receive one. And time, that elusive creature,
becomes compressed, just like our photos and our music, compressed so we can
fit more in, get more done, be more efficient. And compressed time is time
gone by so quickly that I can look at my watch and it's ten A.M. and then
look at it again and it's 2 P.M. and I don't remember where it went, that
time, that vanished time. Which, to ward off boredom, to feel productive, is
a good thing. But it also, it seems to me, means that time itself, precious time, is often squandered, lost in the day and the week
until it has evaporated. And at my age, I'm not so sure how quickly I want
the time to fade away.
When I was young I know that I was always yearning for time to go by. Its
passing meant that I could reach the next plateau, the one I so eagerly
awaited; I could finally wear makeup, go on a date, get my driver's license,
have a (legal) beer, go off to college, so I often wished it away. But at my
current age, isn't the swift passing of time the last thing I want to
wish for? After all, there's only a finite amount of it allotted to me; don't I want to prolong it, s t r e t c h it out into all its minutes and
hours, extending it, enjoying it, reveling in its very existence.
Time, now, has in some ways become the enemy. Will there be enough time?
Will I ever find the time? With the passing of time comes missed
opportunities, less moments with family and friends, fewer chances to
achieve the dreams of a lifetime. Time, in middle age, is NOT on my
And what, in the end, will this time, this life, look like in retrospect,
when I look back in twenty years? Will it too be all jumbled up so that I no
longer remember that my mother died the same year my son got engaged? Or
that we actually had two President George Bushes, and no one was
appalled. What will old age do to my perspective, and what new technology
will again alter my sense of time? And will this life, which seems
now to be vanishing at a rapid pace, also appear to have gone slowly,
crammed full with relationships and challenges and experiences and emotions
that can only be appreciated in some future time? I need to find a way to
make my peace with time now. To manage it better, appreciate it more, learn
its tricks, its nuances, and take advantage of it. Before it's all gone.
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