Flow of time

Have you noticed how time seems to flow faster the older you get? My earliest memories are those of never-ending summers, whole ages of warm weather, fresh fruit and vegetables and earth under bare feet, warm stingy gravel in the sunlight, soft dust, cool soothing bare-trodden earth of footpaths still moist from the last rain shower. It seems to me that I have spent whole months on the branches of the huge cherry tree in my grandmother’s garden, gorging myself to the point of bursting with freshly picked cherries. Actually that lasted just a couple of weeks at most – I can remember the disappointment of returning to find them already rotted on the tree while I was busy with a summer job. I remember mostly summers, and each lasted for whole ages. Winter appeared only in a couple of episodes – me and my little brother riding the sled down a very long road from a huge mountain (in fact just a small hill and the road but a couple of kilometres), or a couple of monumental snowball battles, or the unprecedented snowfall of over a metre that had me tunneling hundreds of metres through the snow in the city’s stadium and building an elaborate “underground” shaft system, my very own secret city built in plain sight of everybody. Everything around you existed in eternity, you were a child and would stay a child for a time longer than you can imagine. Even the waters of the river flowing through the town didn’t go downstream but seemed to linger. You did look at the same river twice, and it was the same river every time you looked at it.

Then at some point it all starts rolling and slipping. You suddenly find yourself at places and an age you can’t recall reaching by a natural flow of events and time, start feeling as if you were flicked there by some invisible overwhelming power. Yes, of course you can remember, but it takes an effort, you must reconstruct the timeline and force yourself to believe that yes, in fact that much time has already passed.

It seems unfair that the less time you have left, the quicker it seems to pass, in fact I dwell on it quite a lot. I suppose it is due to the fact that when you’re, say, ten years old, you can remember but a couple of years back, tens of years are quite beyond your grasp. Plus, there is always change in all this time, the you back then were quite different from the person you are now at ten years old, every bit as dissimilar as the person you will become in a couple of years’ time will be to what you are now. You are changing so quickly that the rest of the world seems static and frozen in comparison. You also can’t wait. What you are changing into is something desirable: you grow bigger and stronger, your parents let you do more and more by yourself, you start growing pubic hair, your penis becomes bigger, your voice deeper, you figure out the workings of the world, people start taking you more seriously and listening to what you have to say – all promises of a bright and happy future. This then stalls later in life, the change becomes mostly external, your circumstances change but it is generally the same old you. The situation is now reversed, the time and the world are changing at breathtaking speed while you’re frozen and static; the changes that happen to you now are not necessarily good and desirable; some are definitely frightening. The time has grown short, it shoots past you at the speed of light while you desperately try to hang on at least a little.

This foreshortening of time is actually an illusion – time is a difficult concept to grasp and even the perception of time for anything longer than a couple of seconds or minutes is full of uncertainty. We use external change as a help to come to terms with longer periods of time, but as these periods get longer, it becomes more difficult to remember the change. leaving you with the illusion that long time has passed without you actually living in it. To look back over half my life would take me 20 years in the past, and I have no recollection of myself vivid enough to see how much I have developed since. I can’t remember that much from 10 years ago either, so it all seems to have passed in a flash. The effect this has is very strange, I’m currently living under the impression that very soon (in a few months’ time) I’ll be 50. Ridiculous notion of course but very real, and very difficult to get rid of. The panic I’m feeling, the feeling of urgency to do something about it (while simultaneously not knowing what to do, or perhaps knowing there’s nothing that can be done about it) must be the midlife crisis.

One problem I have in dealing with this is that apparently I have never intended to live to be this old. All the dreams and intentions of my youth concerned myself younger than I am now, the young me appears to have had no concept of a life or anything desirable past the age of 39, the young me couldn’t care less about whether I live or not. I find myself ran out of rudder, I have, as the french say, “perdu le nord”, I have been left in the lurch by the narrow horizon of my youth. I feel as if I have been struggling through a jungle with the sole intention of getting out of there, now I have emerged and… stare about me with dumb amazement and a rising panic. I have no purpose any longer.

I am not the only one with a similar experience. An old friend recently told me how he had just outlived his own father. He had lost his father in an accident while he was quite young and was living under the shadow of this early death ever since – as he told me without being really aware of it himself. His father had set the bar, he never considered living longer than his father a possibility – not that he was afraid of dying, he merely accepted that as an inevitable fact. Outliving his father broke the illusion, finding himself alive against his expectations was a magnificent relief. I don’t exactly recall whether he told me that himself or whether it is my own thought, but he had just started at last living his own life, instead of living that of his father’s. He has also emerged from a preconceived notion of life, though for him this was a positive occurrence which seemed to make him quite enthusiastic and happy – I hope it stays that way for him. My experience is quite different.

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