The Curious Compression of Time

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” ~Marcus Aurelius

ToniVC / / CC BY-NC-ND

Every once in a while I get the gut-wrenching feeling of suddenly becoming aware of the passage of time. This is followed by a sudden urge to hold it, to make it stop, to hold my kids closer and keep them at this stage and let the drawn-out moments etch themselves on my heart.

ĐāżŦ {mostly absent} / / CC BY-NC-ND

The years seem to spiral in, every occasion seemingly coming sooner than the previous year. Thanksgiving is rolling around again, then Christmas will be here. Once again I will say out loud, “Didn’t I just put these decorations away?”

I have so often been in the busyness of the moment that I have neglected to stop and savor it. The overworked, overtired days of being a young parent swiftly transitioned to the busy, scheduled days of school, after-school activities and PTO meetings. Middle school brought band and sports schedules for the kids, plus a return to college for me. When they were in high school there were more intense sports schedules and school dances and driving lessons and college prep. I started teaching. For all of this time, the background music has been that of work and obligation and daily chores.

We also sought to fill that time with memories – family vacations and camping trips, baking cookies and holiday traditions, exploring, taking walks together, and many small, inconsequential spread out moments. These are what we remember, but as I look back I wonder, was it enough?

The kids are trickling out of the house, heading off to make their own paths in life. I find myself standing here a little dumbfounded at this curious compression of time. Where has it all gone? Surely we haven’t been able to fill it all up. Years ago it seemed to stretch out indefinitely into the future, but now as I look back it seems to have passed with intense rapidity, moment after moment streaming by until I find myself right here, right now. But isn’t right now where we always are?

There are so many distractions in life – television, computer, cell phones, not to mention work and bills and family obligations. I fill my moments with things that inspire me like books and music and people, but also with time killers like Candy Crush Saga and inane text conversations and mindless television. Maybe it’s necessary to give the brain a break now and then and let the nothingness rush in. I don’t know. It seems wasteful somehow.

The other day I was walking on the beach with a dear friend. I didn’t take a camera, and my phone battery was dead. There was no stopping to take pictures, no interruption of phone calls. There were plenty of moments of stopping and breathing in the salt air, feeling the coolness wash over us, letting our feet sink into the grainy sand, and just admiring the way the ochre cliffs were set against the brilliant blue sky. We talked uninterrupted. We relished each moment we were there.

I feel the need to slow down this spiral, to be in the moment like this, to sense, to feel.

It’s easy to forget that moments of time are all we have. I want to appreciate them before they are gone.