I think Albert Einstein was right: time doesn’t really exist. It’s an agreed-upon group illusion, designed to sell watches and clocks. And to tell me when to pay my quarterly taxes. And to help make sure I’m sitting in my office at the same time patients expect me to be sitting there. And to countdown the moments. Maybe to provide rhythm and context to this thing called life.
We have yesterday, today and tomorrow. Otherwise known as past, present and future. I have been admonished, over the course of my life, to learn from the past, to be prepared for the future, while simultaneously staying alive to the present. It seems quite the juggling act. Or maybe not. Maybe, as Einstein said, it’s all happening at once. Time coinheres.
The idea of time is a very strange thing. And it gets stranger to me as I get older.
As a boy of 6 or 7 years-old, I remember the distance between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas. It was eons. Lifetimes. Every aching tick of the clock taunting me, mocking me. I grew old waiting for Christmas. Died a thousand deaths.
Now, 55 years later, the distance between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas is the bat of an eyelash. Poof! Here and gone. Christmas Day is more like a lightening comet that blazes by in an elliptical orbit, leaving me dazed, eyes blinking stupidly. Did anybody see Christmas go by?
See, when you’re 7, a year is a 1/7th of your life. When you’re 62, a year is 1/62nd of your life. Huge difference. When you’re 7 and someone says, “We’ll do that next year,” it’s incomprehensible. Nearly irrelevant. When you’re 62 and someone says, “Let’s do that next year,” you feel a slight sense of anxiety, because one year from now is more like next week. It’s soon.
I’ve lived in this city for 24 years. That, after assuring my friends that maybe I’d live here for 3-5. But what do I know about destiny? Especially my own. John Lennon was right: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
On New Year’s Eve, we think about time. We take inventory. Which is a good thing. Because, as often as we say we’re “killing time,” it seems more apparent that time is killing us. The “Holy Now” of our tiny, individual lives is finite. It has a beginning and an end. And, assuming we have the courage to take that seriously, it’s good to take inventory if for no other reason than to ask ourselves whether we are being responsible and faithful with the time we’ve been allotted.
By the way, no one knows how much time they’ve been allotted.
The gift of mid-life, for me, anyway, is making peace with the paradox of time. It’s knowing, at once, that almost nothing of real value requires hurrying up, yet there is not a moment to waste. It’s knowing that everything is incomprehensibly ancient, yet every day is as brand new as a newborn baby.
At mid-life, I waste so much less time. I give myself shameless permission to be a “time snob.” I’m no longer willing to be tired for just anything or anyone. But, when I am willing, I often say, “I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead.”
If it’s worth being tired for, you can bet I really value it.
Understanding time means knowing that today is the day to say “I love you” To say, “I forgive you,” or, “I ask for your forgiveness.” Now would be a good time to tell him/her how you feel. What you want. For what your heart longs.
With time as our ruler, we know that experiences are more important than possessions. That possessions cannot be possessed; only experiences are forever our own. And the time for plumbing the depths of our experience of life is … now. In heaven there are no watches or maps.
In heaven there are only two relevant questions: Where am I? And, what time is it?
The correct answers are: 1) I’m Here, and 2) It’s Now.
A happy new year to one and all!
You may drop Steven Kalas a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. StevenKalas is a therapist, author and Episcopal priest. He is the author of the book “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing.”)