It is difficult to believe that it has been nineteen months since my partner died. It often feels like yesterday that I last saw him, time moves so fast. But time right now feels sluggish, to the point where I sometimes think the day will never end. The concept of time itself often seems beyond my understanding. Why do we have time? Do we need it for some reason, other than to be on time? Other species seem not to care much about counting days, hours, minutes. I wonder what that first guy was thinking about, when he imagined the idea of time. Perhaps he was hungry.
When I watch the sun come up (that happens rarely for me) or go down (much more often), I can understand the desire to see it again and the idea of waiting for that event. Deifying the sun is a “well, of course” thing. Why would we not? On the beach every evening when I camp in the summer, people come out to watch the sunset. There is an almost -heard collective sigh when the sun is finally below the horizon and folks turn away and go back to their activities. It is awe-inspiring. So, it does not seem too difficult to understand why the next step, counting something until the next sunset, may have begun. It could have been heartbeats, or breaths, or the number of rocks placed next to one another that were counted. Instead, we got this extremely detailed counting of the passage of what we now call time.
Someone divided the space between sunsets, then some accountant or systems engineer found a way to slice that space into smaller increments, and then smaller yet, until now there are nanoseconds. Then, naturally, the space had to enlarge, to become days, then years, decades, millenia. These are quite precise, scientific even. Seventy-five percent of our year-spaces are 365 days long, and the other twenty-five percent are 366 days long. Well, OK, there is always the error factor. But why could we not have been content with saying that there are this number of heartbeats between sunsets?
Now, we have Time. We spend Time. We waste Time. We count Time. We keep Time (oh, really?). And time moves, we say, as I did above, fast or slow, somewhat arbitrarily. There appear to be no rules about whether time goes by or gets itself lost. We are on Time, or we are late or sometimes early. Did the sun set early? These ideas have become important to us. My father, a salesman, was adamant that we always be On Time. Perhaps he was a sun god; a kindly, generous, funny one who knew how to love. My mother had less understanding of time than Dad did. Mom was always asking for help for a “five-minute job”, that would in almost every case end by taking up hours. It was, however, important that we get the job done in time for something.
Time, it seems to me, has much to do with memory. It provides a way to capture remembrances or categorize them for recall. As my Dad, and then my Mom, moved further into dementia, recent times became more difficult to find while more distant memories became more clear. Dad would ask the same question over and over and not remember having asked or been answered. But he could recall with clarity a friend who had given him a book on Mount Rainier when he was in college and could tell the whole story about that event. For me, the image of my guy just after he died remains firmly in my mind. He seemed to sleep, to be without pain, at peace. Much as that image is a reminder of the man I loved all those years, I would rather that some earlier image of him laughing or holding up that fish he was so surprised to have caught could take the final image’s place. I expect that will happen, as time flies forward again.
But, the bottle of time fills with memories and as it does, I think time speeds up. Then it must slow until some of those moments are spilled out and there is room for more–old or new. With this idea of time, I believe that while the space we call time passes, it is neither spent nor wasted. It is simply the memories we create in the space between sunsets.