Happy New Year to me! Here it is, the middle of January and I’m taking a mulligan. Apparently, I wasn’t ready for 2023 to start on January 1, so I postponed it. Following a wonderful Christmas, we started the year with bad colds and rang in the new year quietly after feasting on homecooked meals for both New Year’s Eve and the first 24 hours of a 365-day opportunity to live our best lives.
Somehow, I managed to not accomplish much in the first two weeks, and this led to my overthinking about time. I decided to start the year over, on my own terms.
Time is fluid and regardless of how hard we try, we can’t stop its steady progression. Years fly by, kids grow up, grandchildren arrive and, somehow, we start to lose more people than we were ready to lose. This could be a real bummer if we choose to focus on the inevitable, but I think our moments are more wisely spent on letting this undeniable fact of life be an eye-opener instead.
When I retired, I decided there would be almost no evidence of time passing in our house. After all, we had lived by the clock for our entire lives. Like everyone else, we lived with obnoxious alarms telling us when to get up. We constantly watched the clock to make sure the kids would be on time for school, band events, sporting events and doctor appointments. Dinner was at 6, bedtime by 10 PM. There was no allowance for the natural rhythm of life. It seemed that every second was structured.
Retirement, I pledged, was going to be our time to stop being slaves to watches, clocks and any other gadget that even vaguely resembled a timepiece.
Some may say I wasted my first two-plus weeks of January. Other than taking the tree down and decorating for Valentine’s Day (yes, I’m one of those annoying people who move from one special occasion to the next), I accomplished very little by “normal” standards. I read a lot, painted, dabbled in Prismacolor art, organized the fridge to kickstart healthier eating habits and accepted every invitation to spend time with family and friends. Lanny enjoyed lots of dove lease adventures and, all in all, it was a calming “reboot”.
And yet, those days seemed to disappear into thin air, with nothing to stop them, and nothing of significance to show for them except an OCD-type refrigerator makeover and doves that are still sitting in our freezer, waiting for me to turn them into something edible.
But if you agree with the words of writer J.R.R. Tolkien, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”
Slowing down to a snail’s pace did not give me any more hours than if I had crammed my usual 999 things into those days. But we did enjoy the downtime. Just like my aging Mac, sometimes a reboot is all we need to clear the cobwebs from the brain.
Still, at the end of those “wasted” days we wondered how we “lost” the first half of January? Where did the time go?
Does time really move faster as you age?
Wasn’t I 16 years old about ten minutes ago? There’s something comforting about believing that you’re still middle age. That is, until it hit me that unless I live to be 130, I am NOT middle age – even though, on a good day, I feel like I’m about 30.
There is much speculation about why it seems like time flies by as we grow older. Psychologists, physicists, philosophers, and the common man have spent hours pondering the quickening passage of time with age. I went down the rabbit hole of research on the matter and read many fascinating articles that attempted to explain it from every angle.
Albert Einstein mathematically theorized that time slows the faster we move, a premise that was scientifically proven in 1971. There were explanations from other brilliant brains that included weighty discussions about neurons firing at a more rapid pace in our youth, blah, blah, blah (w-a-y above my pay-grade of understanding). While there was no consensus among the disciplines, there were tons of theories and hypotheses.
One speculation made common sense to me. It proposed that when we were young, we crammed as much as possible into every day, sometimes by choice, other times by necessity. It suggested that, in retrospect, the fullness and constant activity of our younger years made time appear to pass more slowly.
However, our adult children would argue that their time passes much more quickly because they have less free time. They now are the ones who have demanding schedules with no spare minutes in their 24-hour day. They are now the ones who would give anything for a few of the hours that retired people sometimes struggle to fill.
As the years pass, our responsibilities dwindle, and our time is freer. If we do nothing worthy of recalling in our golden years, time seems to fly. There are fewer out-of-the-ordinary things to time-stamp the moments and nothing special to mark the days. The takeaway, I believe, is to stay active. Time is going to pass whether you are busy living your life or sitting in a chair in deep contemplation.
Make the memories. According to some, it will “save” time. And if it doesn’t, you’ve still made new memories.
Stuck in a time warp
My runner-up favorite explanation of why time seems to fly as you age suggested a very simple possibility, one of which we can all relate — television. How many times do you catch yourself watching reruns of classic TV shows? My uncle spends many hours watching “Little House on the Prairie”. Me? I’d be embarrassed to admit the number of times I’ve rewatched episodes of “The Golden Girls” or movies like “When Harry Met Sally”.
In our mind’s eye, Michael Landon’s character, Charles Ingalls, still heads the wholesome Plum Creek household, even though Landon died in 1991. Yet, it only takes a quick channel surf to find him, vibrantly alive and well. It’s easy to lose yourself in a time warp, thinking Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal are still in their prime, experiencing those exciting cat and mouse games of budding romance.
The shocker comes when you realize she is now 61 and he is 74 years old.
This time warp effect is also evident at family or high school (YIKES!) reunions. In our minds, people we once saw regularly remain unchanged in our memories. They stay permanently fixed at the age they were the last time we laid eyes on them, even though decades may have passed. There is always that sobering moment of “*%#%@!!” when we realize that Part B of that shocker is that we’ve remained young in their minds, as well!
Bottom line: Occasionally, we all get stuck in this time warp. The harsh reality is we’re all affected by the hands of time if we’re lucky enough to stay on the top side of the dirt. The antidote, IMHO, is to stay focused on the now. Trip down memory lane, but don’t take up residence there.
The rent is too high.
What day is it?
In my former life I was a medical office manager/podiatry assistant for over 30 years. Nothing would irritate me more than to have a retired patient leisurely stroll in on the wrong day and expect to be worked into an already overwhelming patient load. It was always the same excuse, “Oh, Honey. I’m retired and I never keep up with the days anymore since I don’t have to.”
I was a working, single mom of twin boys who was also fighting her way through college and a boatload of debt with a daily planner that had every nanosecond scheduled. I vowed that I would never be one of those insensitive patients.
Now, if I had a nickel for every time that Lanny or I look at each other and ask, “Is today Wednesday?” I could be shopping for waterfront property on the French Riviera. Although we keep up with appointments just fine – at least for now – other than birthdays, social events, and billing due dates, we don’t really care what day, or time, it is.
We have become two of “those people."
At some point, an exhausted, young office manager is going to look at us and think, “Oh, gawd. You might know they’d show up on the wrong day again. Someone, please, buy those people a calendar!”
And those two old people are gonna smile and say, “Oh, Honey…”
Are we there yet?
Just ask any parent who has ever driven to Disneyworld or anywhere that’s at least 10 miles away from home how the trip went. Their answers will all be the same, “We heard constant chirping from the backseat asking, ‘Are we there yet?’”
Kids can’t wait to reach the next milestone, whether it’s an arrival at Mickey’s fantasyland or their exciting next birthday. Then there’s turning 13, the all-important Sweet 16 and getting that driver’s license, finally graduating, reaching the drinking age of 21, marriage, babies, grand-babies… Life is chock-full of firsts. Time crawls at a snail’s pace for those who can’t wait to experience the next big thing.
If you don't believe me, just ask any child how long it takes Santa to make his yearly trek down the chimney!
As we age, however, there are fewer firsts, and less life passage events to mark the years. It becomes more of a challenge to stay positive and tuned-in to the fact that life – lived right – is far from over. With most of the must-do boxes now checked many of us are blessed to be able to write the next chapters of our lives in ways that will allow new memories for many more years to come.
Time, I’ve decided while researching this issue, is completely relative. We’ve all been given the same 24 hours in a day. It’s how we use and view those hours that makes them either fly by or drag on. It’s about time that we start living each moment to its fullest whenever possible.
I find I’m spending my time more wisely these days. I no longer reach for my phone first thing in the morning. I check emails at the end of the day. I intentionally spend less time online, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, and waste almost no time listening to the bad news that gets thrown at us daily. I’m making a concerted effort to not worry about politics and other things I can do nothing about. I’ve replaced those unnecessary stressors with long walks and yoga classes. I (we) love to travel, make memories with friends and family, read, enjoy good concerts, stay active, learn new things and enjoy movies, as well as quiet evenings at home.
And we rarely miss a special event when it comes to grandkids.
I asked my hubby what thoughts he had on the subject. Lanny said, “Live every day like you’re going to live forever.”
I didn’t see that new take on an old cliché coming, but he’s exactly right. And I’m happy to say he practices what he preaches.
As the years roll by, the inevitable becomes something that becomes harder and harder to ignore. At some point, yes. The party will end for all of us.
But for now, rock on.
The answer is no. We’re not there yet…
Happy New Year to you, too!
“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.”
American author/clergyman Henry Van Dyke
"Does anybody really know what time it is? / Does anybody really care about time?"