by Joan L. Cannon
There seem to be few concepts more absolute than Time. A second is an exact measure, as is a year or a millennium. Yet, thinking of the times we remember or times we anticipate, I'm not sure they aren't as shifting as smoke.
When we’re children, a small amount of time, like a year for instance, is very important and can seem as if it will never pass. Think of it: at one end of a year, we can’t read; at the end of the same year, we are already able to take in ideas from cryptic marks on a piece of paper, even without pictures.
In adolescence, it takes just a little more time on this earth, say two to three years, to impress us, especially if contemplating a member of the opposite sex. Who doesn’t remember fondly that first date with a college student?
As adulthood arrives, it takes more years between us to make much of an impression. If a new friend is five years older or younger, or if one marries someone with even seven or eight years between them, it makes no stir among acquaintances. Ten or more years — that’s another story.
By middle age, most of us know couples with twelve or fifteen years’ difference in their ages, and may comment on the courage it takes for them to anticipate their future together. Our friends’ ages cover a larger range of years than we would have thought likely even ten years ago.
Ten years ago, I remember the slight shock I felt when I realized I could remember something from ten years in the past, and now I hardly wince at remembering things fifty years ago.
When one reaches the age of retirement and proceeds further down the road, those shorter intervals again take on greater importance. Maybe between sixty and seventy, we shrug and think not too much of it. But after eighty, five years gets to be a long time. The older we get, the more important a single year becomes — at least to the person who’s counting. Just as it was at the beginning of life.
That isn’t all the variation I see. Fifty years of age isn’t a matter of comment in the Twenty-first Century, but what would it have seemed to a Neanderthal? Even a Twelfth Century person? In a time when the average life span was thirty-seven years, would those impressions of the passage of one or two years that we overlook have been so insignificant? Imagine being married before living beyond your teens. If you had no child before the age of thirty, could you hope reasonably to see your offspring to maturity?
If you knew you could look forward to no more than forty years of life, what kind of pressure would you feel to accomplish any ambition before it’s too late?
Here and now, few of us are willing to admit we don’t have time to do whatever we want to, unless physical frailty interferes. The second jolt to my psyche came when I realized that there was a whole list of things I intended to do some day that I never would, simply because there wasn’t going to be time. I try to take comfort in the thought that maybe we can’t climb a mountain if we aspire to that, but we can write about it, paint pictures of it, teach someone else how to do it … and if it doesn’t occur to us to simply sit back and be old, perhaps we won’t be quite so fast. We have to admit we’re getting old, but nowadays it’s not common for people to count the days in quite the same way older generations must have had to do. Apart from illnesses or injuries, most of us tend to ignore time.
Unless, like me, we stop and think about it.