The Minutes Are Passing
I am sitting at my keyboard. I hope that when sixty minutes are up I have created a rough draft for this article. Sixty minutes should be plenty of time, but I know how slippery time is. It sneaks past and two hours later I am looking at just thirty words on my computer screen.
It wasn’t always this way. When I was eight years old, the passage of time was wonderfully slow. Each day was a vast space for exploring, for doing, for discovery. I didn’t even think about time until my mother yelled, “Time to come in for supper!” If I couldn’t do something now, I could always do it later. Sometimes there even seemed to be too much time! Like millions of kids, when we were on a long (one hour!) car trip I would ask, “How long until we are there?”
Now there is never enough time. I have lived seven decades, I am retired, and like many others my age, I am pursuing many activities, meeting new people, and learning new skills. In one way I’m still like the eight-year old boy—each day seems like a wonderful space for exploring. But there is a big difference−the day is no longer vast. I just get started at something, and—oh-oh!—the day is gone!
Chunks of Time
If I can’t go back to my experience as an eight-year-old, it would still be great to go back to high school. Sure, time was a big factor—classes started and ended with a bell that rang rigidly on schedule. And homework was always due at a certain time. But time felt friendlier than now. First hour math was great fun. Second hour history would be over just before it killed me with boredom. Third hour Latin might be difficult, but the teacher was entertaining—and who could forget Bonnie Clark in those short skirts! And after the last bell−sweet freedom!
In high school time was parceled out in chunks. Once in a while a bad chunk came along, but most chunks of time were full of good stuff. I suppose the hours passed more quickly than when I was eight, but who was paying attention?
And speaking of not paying attention, just become an adult, get married, get a job and have children. You just keep moving—moving—moving. You only look at a clock or calendar to see what comes next. Who has time to worry about how fast time passes?
Worry about time doesn’t come until later. After the children have left the house and live their own high-speed lives and you are standing in your now quiet house, you suddenly notice you are fifty or sixty years old. Just a few years ago you were young and a lifetime lay ahead of you. What the heck happened? The same time you once knew as a friend seems to have turned against you!
Maybe my problem is that I think of time in measured pieces. For example, I worry about whether I am fooling myself when I sit down to write. Will I be the creative guy I like to think I am, or will my brain jam up for an hour. If it jams up, I will look back and think of a wasted hour—ONE WHOLE HOUR! Wasting time is not what my life is supposed to be about is it?
Here is a thought: what if I would think of time as one great flow instead of a bunch of measurable chunks? Isn’t all this measuring of time a human invention, a useful one to be sure, but one that confuses our understanding of what time really is?
And doesn’t our experience of life exist only in the present moment? Maybe if we remembered our “present” home in the continuum of time, we would feel more comfortable with time. We would love time because every moment of time is life itself.
We take it so personally!
There’s another problem. Not only do I measure time in discrete pieces, I treat every piece as MY time. So of course, I get upset when I waste a piece−it’s very personal.
But what if I could take time less personally? Lama Surya Das says, “Too often in our lives we think mostly in terms of ‘my space,’ ‘my time,’ ‘my work,’ ‘my goals’ …. ” If I were less concerned with what Buddhists call “ego,” maybe I would see that time is not my personal possession. Time doesn’t belong to me. I belong to time.
Once Below a Time
Perhaps you are like me and would like to recapture that simpler, more childlike way of seeing time, or to put it more helpfully, that way of living in time. I love the way Friedrich Buechner describes a child’s time in his book, “Sacred Journey”:
“How do you tell the story of your life—of how you were born, and the world you were born into, and the world that was born in you? ‘Once upon a time,’ you might say because all beginnings have a legendary quality about them, a promise of magic, but Dylan Thomas uses a different phrase about his childhood which strikes me as a more accurate one. ‘Once below a time,’ he says in his poem “Fern Hill,” meaning, I assume, that, for a child, time in the sense of the great circus parade of past, present, and future, cause and effect, has scarcely started yet and means little because for a child all time is by and large now time and apparently endless.”
“What child, while summer is happening, bothers to think much that summer will end? What child, when snow is on the ground, stops to remember that not long ago the ground was snowless? It is by its content rather than its duration that a child knows time, by its quality rather than its quantity—happy times and sad times, the time the rabbit bit your finger, the time you had your first taste of bananas and cream, the time you were crying yourself to sleep when somebody came and lay down beside you in the dark for comfort.”
I suspect that it is possible for us, even as adults, to live “below” time. We just need to check our watches and our calendars less often. We need to slow down enough to notice the scenery. We need to pause and relish the sound of a friend’s voice. And we must remember that time does not belong to us; that we belong to time.
Well, let me see what time it is. Oh my—first I need to see what day it is! I typed the first paragraph of this draft seven days ago! I’m glad I mentioned how slippery time is! And, I am happy to say that, not only did time allow me to write these words, time gave me loads of other life experiences in the space of one week.
Maybe we can be a little slippery ourselves. Let’s try, for at least a little while, to slip out of our intensely personal, fragmented view of time, and slip into our childhood minds where “all time is by and large now time and apparently endless.”by