The Definition of Time

We wear watches that glow in the dark, keep our eyes on the clocks, and constantly ask each other “What time is it?” Day after day through our numerous calendars, our lives are all planned out. We keep track of time “twenty-four/seven.” We are obsessed with time because we live in a world that revolves around it. There is “a time and a place for everything.”

Most of us are “paid-by-the-hour” employees who jump at the chance for “over-time.” “Time-shares” cost a small fortune. Due to deadlines, bills, appointments, work and school, we worry about being “on time”, “ahead of time”, often barely making it “just in the nick of time.” We eliminate tasks from our to-do lists that are “too time-consuming” or a “waste of valuable time” and often “cut corners” to “save time.”

Children are taught at a young age what “bed time” means, and about the trouble they can get into as teenagers if they have “too much free-time on their hands.” Harried parents have “no time to themselves.” I know a man who lives with his wife and three teen-age daughters who dreads “that time of the month.” “Good time” refers to fun we’ve had, or to an open slot in our schedules. It is also found in bathroom wall graffiti with the prefix “For a” and a suffix of someone’s name and phone number.

“Bad time” refers to unpleasant experiences we’ve all had “at some point in time.” We will never allow them to happen again, “not in this lifetime” anyway. We must keep up with the latest news and developments via newspapers, television, and radio lest we get “behind the times.” Criminals are sentenced to “do hard time” in prison when convicted.

There is a “first time” for everything; the “last time” that we see our loved ones is often at funerals.

Even if “plenty of time” is allowed, best-laid plans may not be sufficient because life doesn’t wear a watch.Time is relative; it goes by faster as we get older. One day to a newborn baby equals one lifetime. If we measure our lives mathematically, one day to a one-year old equals one three hundred sixty-fifth (1/365th) of a lifetime; one day in the life of a one-hundred-year-old equals one thirty-six thousand five hundredth (1/36,500),a mere fraction. Just how much can one expect to accomplish in that short of time? Yet, the Bible tells us that God made the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. What fraction represents one day in the life of God?

Time is an algebraic equation; it takes “x” amount of time to complete a task from start to finish. “x” is a variable because the same person doing the same task may not do it in the same amount of time each and every time. The value of “x” will change. Sometimes “x” equals one. A person’s “lifetime” is measured by the span of time between birth and death. Whether one year old or one hundred years old, a “lifetime” equals only one per person, unless you believe in reincarnation or you are a cat.

We believe things to be true if we “see them with our own eyes,” but Einstein proved that time is relative and many-dimensional. Sound and light don’t conform to our concepts of time. We see “stars” that have long since vanished because it takes “light years” for the image to reach our eyes from great distances. We see lightning and jets, but don’t hear them until seconds later as thunder and “sonic booms”. They are not simultaneous and it’s hard for our brains to comprehend that. “Seeing may be believing,” but that doesn’t make it true.

We would be immortal if not for time, because time has the ability to define both the beginning and the end of life. The black and white of life and death are blended together by time into gray on the palette of eternity used to paint the big picture. In the purely physical sense, we are dead or we are alive. In the spiritual sense, life has no beginning and no end, unless you consider Christianity’s belief that we are spiritually dead without God, even though physically alive. In eternity, time is irrelevant. Even the longest life lived is just a little blip on the “timeline” of human existence. Weatherworn names on gravestones are sometimes made unreadable by the effects of time plus exposure to the elements. The only proof long after we are dead, that we were here on earth and that we mattered, is the chain of remembrances connecting each life to us and to each other. If each generation remembers the ones before and passes the memories on to the next, no one will be forgotten over time.

Our music reminds us of the power time has over us. It is magical: “Time casts its spell on you so you won’t forget me.” (“Silver Spring”, Fleetwood Mac.) It gives us courage: “Time makes you bolder; children get older, and I’m getting older, too.” (“Changes,” Fleetwood Mac.) “There comes a time in everyone’s life when all you can see are the years passing by, and I have made up my mind that those days are gone. I’m moving on.” (“Moving On”, Rascal Flatts) and explains how life works; “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven….”; (Ecclesiastes 3, Pete Seeger, and The Byrds) However, saving “Time in a Bottle” didn’t extent the life Jim Croce.

My dad will be seventy-three years old next week. He lives for his BWCAW trips and has several planned for this summer. He is feeling his mortality lately not because of his age, but because he realizes that it may be impossible to fulfill his dream of seeing ALL of the lakes in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness before he dies. I believe he’s seen more of the lakes than the U.S. Forest Service and Sigurd Olson put together and needs to be happy about that. Never mind the time “wasted” by not starting his explorations earlier in life. He’s had a good life surrounded by people that he loves and that love him.

Spring and summer of 1993 was the worst time in my life. My husband, a self-employed carpenter and building contractor, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). It was devastating. Almost overnight my job changed from helping him build houses to helping him get dressed. With treatments of intravenous steroids he was able to become self-sufficient again. During that same period of time, my beloved grandmother “Nana” was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

I learned a lot about courage from them both. I was there in the hospital room when her doctor came to see her with the CT scan results. Chemotherapy and radiation were offered, which would make her sick and would be pointless, except to maybe “buy a little more time.” Nana candidly asked the doctor, “So, how long do I have?” She was then told that others with the same type of tumor usually lived approximately four months, and four months it was. She told me kindly, but bluntly, that “death is a part of life” and that I had to “deal with it.” She chose to die the same way she chose to live, with great dignity and courage. I am grateful for the time we had to spend together. We all miss her, especially my mother, but I guess “it was just her time.”

I have a love-hate relationship with time. Some of the people closest to me in my life have told me that I have “no perception of time.” I jokingly reply that they say it like it’s a bad thing, but it really has caused me some problems. Five minutes seemed like an hour and an hour felt like five minutes, depending on what I was doing. It drove my parents crazy and I remember being “grounded” for being late when I was a teenager. My mother sent me to my room to “think about it.”

The only good I’ve seen come out of that incident was an essay thirty-two years later; I’m still thinking about it. It really doesn’t seem like that long ago that I graduated from high school in 1974, but it seems like forever since my daughters graduated in 2000 and 2002 and went away to college. I miss them both terribly, but because I’m very busy with work, school and everyday life, I don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. Thank God. One of my daughters told me once that she had “seventeen hours of homework to do over the weekend.” It is incomprehensible to me how she can estimate that. My husband constantly tells me that I need to learn “time management” because I have so much to do in so little time. “There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and you’re trying to cram thirty-two hours worth of stuff into it,” he says. He’s absolutely right. You’ll never hear the words “I’m bored” come out of my mouth. With what I have to do and what I want to do, that leaves no time to be bored. The only day I have off a week from work is Sunday. It is not a day of rest.

Because of the world we live in, I have to conform enough to be somewhat aware of the time or I’ll lose my job and I won’t succeed in school. I have a “one-time shot” at getting a two-year “RN” degree paid for through a federal grant program, while still working full-time and not leaving the area for classes. I happened to be “at the right place at the right time” at age forty-six; the timing was perfect. My friend Roxie calls it “God’s timing.” I believe she’s right because when I stopped worrying so much about the future and “let go and let God,” as Al-Anon says, doors opened up to me that I never thought to knock on.

“Only time will tell” what the future holds in store for each of us. Most of us are not psychic, so we plan our time the best we can with the knowledge that we do possess, and rely on faith that God will help us through. “Desiderata” sums it up well; “…whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” From “time to time,” I’ll catch a glimpse in the rearview mirror of life called hindsight, and see that events of the past were object lessons to learn from, life’s endurance tests. Every experience, every person I’ve ever come into contact with, has had an influence on who I am.

The things I regret doing “seemed like a good idea at the time,” though most remorse is felt for things I didn’t do and wish I had. When I “took the time” to quietly reflect for a few minutes, I became aware of the sound of the second hand ticking on the clock. The realization made me very sad because that was also the sound of my life ticking away second by second. I wonder if I’m better off not paying much attention to time and focusing on living life. “There’s no time like the present” to prevent the “could-a, should-a, would-as” of tomorrow. Those poignant moments in life in which it seems that “time stands still” have nothing to do with the clock. I think I’ll try to manage my time better so it doesn’t manage me, but won’t dwell on it. “Que sera sera; what will be, will be.” It’s not important how long I live, just that I have lived. If I am happy, if I love and am loved, that is what really matters.