Saturday, July 29, 2006

TIME by Nelma Ward

You ask me to write about time and my mind goes off at dozens of tangents. What a subject, I think. What a large, indescribable thing. I won’t even let my mind head off into the direction of black holes – time warps, time standing still, parallel universes and other such phenomena.

I’ll keep it simple. I think of the time when I’m sitting here at my computer trying to put this piece together, and then I think of the time when you will read it – a totally unknown thing to me at this very minute. Who says that time will ever come?

A woman in the process of giving birth – say for four hours – would have a very different perception of her experience of her passage of time to that of a woman laying beside a pool on a sunlounge at a luxurious resort for four hours. Its such a strange thing. Standing beside a microwave waiting for thirty seconds to pass can take ages; becoming caught up in a book, and hours can fly by before we swim up out of the pages.

We invest in time, don’t we? We spend time learning, making friends, dreaming, in years of marriage, in the nine months of pregnancy. We lose time too –we idle away a day, we worry, we are depressed. The millisecond gone can never be recovered.

But what is wasted time? Perhaps the time that passes when we idle a day away, sitting, doing nothing, fiddling around is absolutely essential to our calmness and wellbeing. If we tried to use every minute of time we’d go mad.

‘Don’t waste a minute – make every minute count’. What rot! We need time to ruminate, to come to terms with things, to plan ahead, and to remember the past. A constant New Years resolution is to utilise our time better. How many of us ever do that? We just keep plodding along, and suddenly we find a day has passed, years have passed, whole decades have slipped by. Our allotted time is disappearing right before our eyes.

‘Live us each day as if it was your last’, they exhort us. God grief, if I lived each day as if it were my last I’d have spent all our money, and flung around a few home truths that probably wouldn’t have been received very well by those around me. Best I live each day as if I have another coming up!

We count the passage of time by milestones – minutes – ‘oh look, its sixteen minutes past six’; weeks - ‘I went to town last Wednesday’; years - ‘I’m eighty today – how about that!’ Seasons mark time passing. We can keep tabs on the passage of time in history books. We keep a strict eye on time – most of us know what day it is, month and year, morning or night, the hour and sometimes the minute – how out of control would we feel if we didn’t!

Its absolutely inexorable – time just slips away and slips away. The one thing that we cannot do is turn time back.

It would be easy to say time is wasted having, say, acrylic fingernails fitted, and time is well spent researching, say, a cure for cancer. Its all relative, isn’t it? The person with the acrylic fingernails probably loves them, and the person researching cancer probably hasn’t made any headway.

Time spent in anticipation is delicious I think. We count down the days until some event. I remember counting down days to a trip we were to take many years ago, and inadvertently counting down the last few months of days of a very good friend’s life. My friend died of cancer. So young. Did she fill every minute of her short life? She didn’t know she was going to die, so I’m sure she went along like the rest of us – frantically busy one minute, appreciating something the next, and later wasting hours and hours just doing nothing.

That’s the thing, isn’t it, we are each isolated in time. What we each do at each second is what we do. How much time has passed since I sat down to write this – fifteen minutes, perhaps. The sunset outside has been changing all through that time. I should go out and look at sunsets more often. I always think, ‘Oh, I’ll go another night – it’s a bit chilly, I want to make a phone call, I should start to prepare dinner’. How many more sunsets will I see? Time….an absolutely undefinable quantity.

The time past is what we can remember, and we can only aspire to the time ahead. Now is the only real time – the second I typed the last ‘e’ in that word time, just before the dash, is now gone – I didn’t really experience it – just yet another keystroke, my feet are a little cold, I’m aware the news is on tv. I really believe that we strongly experience time which has passed and become a memory, and the time that we use anticipating future events is more real than the minute we are living in now.

Now I’ve used up some of your valuable time while you’ve read this – and time is valuable, don’t you agree? Our most elusive and unappreciated asset.

© Nelma Ward


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