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Wait, what time did you say it was?
(No. 123) Next week I cross the divide that is 65. It's time to reinvent time.
I have always defined myself by my sense of time. My age. The date. Time left on earth. Time that has passed since I was born, or graduated, or married, or divorced. The number of times my heart beats in a minute. The time I wake up and begin tackling all the commitments of the day. The months remaining before I lose 20 pounds (and am perfect). The time until my youngest kid leaves the house and I am “free.” The time my smart watch beeps to tell me I should focus inward and be mindful -- for exactly one minute as I gaze at a pulsating digital lotus. That just happened.
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Writing this, the concept of time feels absurd. I suspect we all feel this now and then.
I’m sitting at my desk in Manhattan, a window to my right offering views of townhouses, the giant Google headquarters rising up four blocks downtown, and some trees with early spring buds silhouetted against the pale blue sky. I can tell by the angle of the sun that it is mid morning. Also by the fact that the noisy yellow buses have already dropped off the kids at the school next door. In my view are a computer, an iWatch, and two phones, all of which tell me what time it is: 10:04. All these devices are synched to that great timekeeper in the cloud. Nearby are another computer, an iPad, a Kindle, wifi router, stove and microwave, all with flashing clocks. A large analogue clock fills the church tower across the street. They say God is in the details, but I suspect that God doesn’t use a clock. Why would They? Why would we?
I check my calendar. It’s 2/7. I turn 65 in 10 days. Born in 1958. I’m in my 7th decade and, according to the actuarial tables, I have 18 years left to live. Yet, according to a premonition I had when I was about 7 years old, I actually have 27 years left. I was sitting beneath a broad cottonwood tree near the creek on my grandmother’s farm when the certainty that I would live to the age of 92 hit me like a message from the heavens. (I’d like to revise that premonition upwards, now that I’m ⅔ of the way there. Shall we say 96, for now?)
I’m my own boss. I have no assistant keeping track of my schedule. I work for myself, passing many days with no meetings or obligations other than to produce an article or a chapter or a TikTok video and make some of that money that feels no less important now than it did 40 years ago. Yet, I am acutely aware of the time of day, the day of the year, the year of the century, the century itself. I feel the passage of my life from hour zero to hour now, and imagine the hours remaining. Sometimes I think about the time it will take to make a meal, and I just don’t make that meal -- handful of nuts instead. I’d like to sit by a creek for an hour and watch the ripples go by, but I don’t -- no time.
I’ve frequently heard spiritual people, physicists and others say that time is an illusion. For decades, I was unable to understand that concept, which seemed high-minded and abstract. Gradually, I’ve begun to open to the idea that we humans invented time itself in order to make sense of the world. Naturally, since the sun and moon rise and set regularly, we structured time around the light and the darkness.
Humans did not wake up one day and invent time. Rather, we gradually developed the concept. Right now we’re refining our concept of time along infinitesimal digital measurements tracked by machines. All of us respond to constant cues from our devices and all the people we know, commanding us to pay attention. To what? To time. So we don’t fuck up. I make myself examine my calendar every day to see how much time I have before time takes me away -- to an appointment, a running group, a date or a meeting. I’m in a rush to get everything done by the end of the day, year, or decade. But then what? What happens when I get caught up? I do not know, because that has never happened. When I start thinking about all this, I suspect that my focus on my seemingly never ending list of deadlines may be a fool’s errand.
Until recently, I believed that my clock was finite, that it was ticking down until the moment my time would end, and I would be dead. But now that, at age 65, the potential for that to happen is increasing exponentially, I’m looking at the whole mishegoss of time a little differently. I’m beginning to experience a curious pleasure in stopping the relentless unfolding of time, just for a moment at a time. A second ago that moment involved the feathery gray shadows my wooden blinds cast on the white wall behind my computer screen. Time stopped while I experienced this Wordsworthian spot of time. The moment felt good.
That’s the goal. Feeling good in the moment, moment by moment. In the moment, there is no time, no end and no beginning. That removes a busload of worries. If there’s a problem in the moment, I’ll deal with it. If I need to plan for the future in the moment — for instance, setting money aside for a mortgage payment — I will do it. In the moment, things still get done.
Here I am, a computer screen in front of me, a mourning dove on my windowsill cooing for spring. Inside my head something is buzzing. I feel hungry in the deep insides of my gut. I close my eyes but I keep typing. What? Here is what I know in this moment with my eyes closed and my fingers on the keyboard: This moment is the past, the future and the present. It runs sideways and up and down and out and in (according to physicists). It’s all that we have, which isn’t much, but definitely is enough.
I will say goodbye, for now, knowing that as you read this — even if its a year from now — we will be in the same moment.
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