The Oddness of Time – 2

I was eleven, and it was my first year in secondary school.

I don’t remember the day or the date, which in a way surprises me, since everything else was so vivid. But I was walking with Chas, a sometime friend, and we had just finished a maths lesson and were on morning break. The day was overcast, and I suspect it was early summer.

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We had just walked down the half dozen steps that ran down to the Lower Quad from the strip of asphalt beside the cloisters which connected the two main school buildings, and separated the Upper Quad from its lower cousin. At that point, I know I had not yet realised that ‘Quad’ was short for ‘Quadrangle’ – why would I? I was in my first year there, all was relatively new and there were more than enough new things to get my head around and cope with, without adding any unnecessary ones into that particular stew.

At the bottom of the steps I looked to my right at the large building that housed the dining hall and the geometry room, among others. There was nothing unusual or special about it that day, I just looked at it and had a powerful realisation – an understanding – that I would never again experience exactly what I was experiencing in that moment.

I might view the same view again, and perhaps the weather would be the same. Maybe even every boy in the school might occupy exactly the same place as they occupied at that moment, either outside where I could see them or elsewhere, unlikely though that might be. But it could never actually be the same again.

The universe would have changed; in one year we would occupy the same position relative to the sun, but not to all the other bodies in space. That would never be repeated. The Virginia Creeper on the dining hall wall would have changed – grown larger, grown new new leaves and lost many of the older ones. So too the other trees and plants.

We would never occupy the same point in time again.

I did not discover anything new that day. I did not add anything to the sum of human knowledge. But what I did was actually experience my existence in a way I had never done before, and have done only a few times since.

It is tempting to look back across that huge gulf – over fifty years, more than half a century – and fill my eleven year old head with profound thoughts that were not there at the time. But I knew I would never experience that moment again, yet I understood instinctively that I would forever be able to recall it. In a way like a snapshot, but a snapshot that included physical feelings and a strange sense of wonder.

Time is sometimes described as an infinite series of moments – because only the present exists – much like an old-fashioned cine film where the perception of movement is supplied by viewing a rapid sequence of still images, each one a gradual progression between the previous ones and the following ones, yet in a way this idea negates the whole concept of motion, since if that really was our experience, we should lose the consequences of motion; just think of the effects of a car crash, or a punch to the jaw, for example.

This was a snapshot in time, but it was anything but frozen. I felt it not only as a moment, but as part of continuous stream. I could still feel the rest of the world flowing past me as I stood there.

Buddhists speak of ‘Little Enlightenments’, which are moments when one has an almost overpowering feeling of existence, a strong sense of being connected to the whole world, during which that person experiences a heightened awareness – they seem to hear what is around them more clearly, see unusual detail and find that even colours appear more vivid than usual. At the same time thought seems unusually profound. This only lasts a short time, perhaps a couple of seconds, but leaves behind a powerful impression. I have twice experienced this, and each time I was somehow reminded of my experience that day at school.

And I wonder if the connection there is that I had an unexpected understanding of time for a few moments at the foot of the steps below the cloister.

 

Do It Tomorrow

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We have all been encouraged to think

That our time is so important.

Yet it is only when we become old,

And we have so much less of it left,

That we realise this is not the case.

 

We’ve been told we must save time,

Instead of using it and moving on.

How precious time is,

As if it were a commodity we might hoard

And use when we need it most.

 

Instead of squandering it on what makes us happy,

And filling it with unimportant things.

 

But I say, let what you’re doing fill your time.

If you’re washing up,

Then let your plates be the cleanest.

And if you’re looking at the winter sun on frosty leaves,

Well, let that be the best experience you have ever had.

 

Sometimes I have these flashes,

When I think I’ve understood something deep and profound.

And usually it means an evening drinking wine,

Or half an hour sitting on a sunlit hillside.

But I do wonder what we’re all so busy chasing.

 

And if you think this lesson worth remembering,

There’s no better time than now.

 

Measurements

 

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We measure out our time in days,

We measure things so many ways.

We measure distance out in miles,

We measure happiness with smiles.

 

Some think the dollar and the dime

Should be the measure of their time.

The passage of each single hour,

Is marked by exercise of power.

 

I think our time is short enough,

Without recourse to such sad stuff.

I’ll measure my remaining years,

With laughter, books, light rain and beers.

Attention! Fantastic News!

Now, this is good news.

Really good news.

Like so many people, I’ve always complained that there are just not enough hours in the day for me to get everything done that I want to do.

Heck, I don’t even have enough hours to do those things that I need to do.

This didn’t used to be the case, though. I can remember when my day used to glide past nice and smoothly; when I would have time to get up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, eat and do whatever I needed to do, then maybe go out in the evening, come home again, and that was it! Job done! Time for everything!

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As I became older, though, there did seem to be less time available. Jobs lined up waiting to be done; I seemed to be busier and busier, and the days just seemed…shorter.

I began to wonder where the time was going. I looked in all the usual places; down the back of the sofa, under the bed, behind the stacks of baked beans in the bottom of the corner cupboard beside the sink, but no luck.

But I’ve been looking at it completely the wrong way.

So, the good news? Well, it took a lot of doing, but I have managed to fit a whole hour into just forty minutes.

Now, the consequences of this are pretty devastating, really.

I now have thirty six hours in my day instead of just twenty four.

There is just so much more I can do, now!

I can go to work for eight hours and still have twenty eight left over for other things.

Twenty eight!

Hell, that’s more than I used to have in a whole day, anyway!

I can even get have twelve hours sleep of a night, and then get a full days work in the next day.

And have sixteen hours left for other purposes. I guess I am now time-rich, to use one of these ridiculous modern phrases.

But…it’s odd, though. Despite all this extra time at my disposal, I seem to have more trouble than usual fitting a couple of simple tasks into an hour. Jobs that used to take me an hour, now seem to take an hour and a half to do. It is, as I say, rather odd.

And another downside of this, I suppose, is that I will no longer have an excuse to go offline for a while ‘just to catch up with things’.

Perhaps I’ll stick with the sixty minute hours for the moment, and keep the others in reserve for when I’m really busy.

‘Mick…’

‘Not now, Bob, I’m busy. I’ll get back to you later. You know, there just aren’t enough days in the week…’

Time, Gentlemen, Please!

When I go out, I will frequently leave my phone at home. If I have no particular reason to take it with me, such as for work or awaiting an urgent call, then it is a real pleasure to be able to leave it behind.

I feel a release, not being in constant contact with everyone. I also rely upon it for the time, not possessing a wristwatch, so again, without it, I am freed from this small tyranny. Interestingly, I often know the time if I am asked, as long as I reply spontaneously, without thinking, but then, if I give it more thought, the gift disappears. I wonder if this is an instinct that we have largely lost. If so, and I ponder this train of thought, how did older, ancient peoples view the time? Presumably not as ‘nine’ or ‘three o’clock’ – morning, noon and afternoon? A time of waxing and waning light? Those more sedentary no doubt were as much tied to the sundial as we are to the clock.

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At court, or in monasteries, or other relatively affluent places, they relied on candles, marked with hours, to tell the time, but the common people would have had no such thing. Here in England, the church might have possessed a clock that chimed the hour, so that those who lived near enough might have an idea of the time, but apparently these could be notoriously inaccurate, sometimes being wrong by perhaps several hours or more.

But this probably did not matter, for the rural worker would not need to know the time. The farm labourers would rise at dawn, eat something for breakfast, then make their way to the fields. Around noon they would eat lunch, and at dusk they would return home.

They had no need of timekeeping any more accurate than that.

Contrast that to today, when it almost seems necessary to justify every minute of the day. I think this is one of the attractions of taking a holiday; it seems such a treat to spend each day doing as much or as little as is desired, and not to have to justify it to anyone. And, by extension, perhaps it is vitally important that we take holidays now. Hundreds of years ago in those semi-mythical non time-dominated days, workers did not get holidays. They just had Sundays off. It is easy to suggest that we are softer now, but I think the fixation of time has contributed to lives vastly more dominated by stress, and overwork, and that holidays are essential for us all.

I know I damn well need one!