Jan 14, 2021

Time as a moveable feast


Time is
Too slow for those who wait,
Too swift for those who fear,
Too long for those who grieve,
Too short for those who rejoice,
But for those who love,
Time is eternity.

Henry Van Dyke

Lately, I’ve been thinking about time, and especially how this single word covers such a wide range of experiences. So I looked up one of my favourite books, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, to see if someone had done a pithy summary of such thoughts. I was expecting Shakespeare to have put his finger on it, but the writer who came closest was Henry Van Dyke, an American Presbyterian minister whose life spanned the late 1800s and into the 1900s, and whose views on time – it turns out – were included in one of the eulogies for Princess Diana.

While I’m not in lockstep about time being “too” this and “too” that, it did capture the notion of how varied time can be for us. Right now, for example, at the age of 78, I’m way past the tipping point of any expectation of a long time left to my life. My still sorely missed father died at exactly this age, which may well be one of the reasons why I’m thinking about all of this, while hoping to have 10 or 20 or even just five years more, considering the current state of medical knowledge, and now complicated with the possibility of COVID-19 knocking unexpectedly on our doors.

At the same time(!), however, what I’ve been thinking is how very slowly it seems to pass on the exercise machines that I mount most days, to ensure that if I do live longer it will be in a reasonably fit condition. As I start my routine, each 60 minutes that lie ahead of me feels like an eternity, even though I fill them with fascinating podcasts such as the ABC’s Conversations, The Moth Hour, This American Life and Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales laughing their way through Chat 10, Looks 3. And although at the end I always feel the satisfaction of time well spent, up until then the timers on those machines persist in creeping along, lengthy minute by minute.

And that takes me back to my more active grandparenting days, when my care of gorgeous young grandchildren was a regular activity that I miss now that they are older and can take care of themselves. While that feels like such a short time ago, it was actually several years since I did that, and those many years have not obliterated the memory of how time crept along then too, as I have to admit that playing children’s games bores me witless and seems to go on forever. But absolutely worth it, every time.

Then there are books, many, many books as I’ve been a bookworm (the unlovely name for such as I, way back when) from the moment I could read. And I’m fascinated by the fact that there are such contrasts between page turners, where time flashes by having me immersed and finished at a gallop, and slow burners which somehow manage to have time moving at a snail’s pace, during which I keep checking with disbelief that I’ve still got so much to go in the time that I’ve felt that I’ve spent on it. And yes, I did read books – sometimes the same ones over and over, by request – to my grandchildren, who sometimes had to wake me up when I dozed off in the process. There are books, and books.

And movies – a form of addiction for which the waiting time can drag before pitching me into a world ruled by the time covered before The End. Whether a day, or a lifetime, you come out delightfully disorientated from that time machine.

When it comes to time machines, incidentally, I long ago came to see our bodies as being the most amazingly unacknowledged time machines, becoming increasingly more weathered carriers of the essentially same us through all the years that we’ve lived to date. And I’ve developed a particular fondness for those books and movies that take me back to some of those times that I’ve lived through, bringing those memories back to life.

But I have no wish to actually go back in time. At this stage on the roller coaster of my life, in amongst the highs and lows I’m having a good time: lucky enough to still be part of a happy couple at the apex of a loving family, in good health and with many interests. So right now, savouring the present works for me, however fast or slow it goes at any moment of this time. And after the tough time that we’ve had, planet-wise, that’s my wish for all, to be in a better place as 2021 gets underway.

Image: Marina 113, iStock.

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