I was thinking recently about the passage of time and its momentum. How long is a minute, or an hour, or a day? We know these only in relative measurements: a minute as being 60 seconds, an hour being 60 minutes and a day being 24 hours; but what defines time? We use clocks to tell the time, but we refer to time as ‘flying’ or ‘dragging’, descriptions which are, it would seem, context and emotionally dependent.
‘Time flies when you’re having fun’ is a commonly used expression the meaning of which we’ve come to comprehend, but underlying it is a sense of our grasping on to having things the way we would like them. When we’re enjoying something, we want it to last longer, if not forever. Working with individuals who have experienced depression, I am regularly reminded of our attachment to good moods and mind states. Perhaps our trouble is not our natural and inevitable mood fluctuation, but our desire that things be other than they are, which is ebbing and flowing, constantly changing moment to moment.
We use time to describe so much – feeling as though you’ve known one another for a ‘lifetime’ – what does that mean? How would we possibly know what it means to know someone for a lifetime? How could we know what a lifetime might entail? We’re all living longer, but are we living fuller lives? What makes a life well lived?
And then there’s the sense that time starts to evade us, and slip through our fingers. Whereas a half term at school felt like an eternity, some years later the same period (likely to be about 6 weeks) may seem very brief. Older individuals frequently remark upon a sense that they have ‘wasted’ time, conveying a sense of loss, or regret. Underneath is usually an existential acknowledgment that time is precious and, like so many things, beyond our control. Day turns to night, and night into day, but what are we doing with the spaces in between?
‘Where does the time go?’ I’m not sure, perhaps wherever we let it...
"So, tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Mary Oliver