An old friend and I got to talking about how the days, months, seasons, and years pass exponentially quicker as we age. I recall in seventh grade staring out the window of Sister Lorraine’s class in the afternoon at the bricks of the church next to the school and wondering whether counting them would help pass the drudgery of whatever the good nun was prattling about. Time, to my twelve-year-old mind, passed as quickly as photosynthesis, which, now that I think of it, was probably what she was talking about.
The pace of human time is linear: clock and calendar. But we also think of time in the expansive sense: We had a grand time, or more apropos for our consideration: Where did the time go?
Time crawls in youth, becomes nonexistent in young adulthood when one comes to believe s/he is immortal, exists as a theoretical construct for thirty-somethings, and begins to hit home when one reaches middle age. From then on, the realization of one’s mortality gradually grows in his consciousness until, at a ripe older age, it smacks him hard upside the head.
Whether cultural/societal or part of our evolutionary psychology, I posit that men and women process time and aging differently. Part of it is biological. Bearing offspring is inherently a feminine function. When it comes to producing life, men are basically bystanders.
Traditionally, men have been and see themselves as providers, protectors, and controllers. But finality of life is beyond their control. Women, whether they’ve birthed new life or not, understand the cycle of it—birth, growth, maturity, death, resurrection—far better than men.
Neither, then, can a man control time. It’s his greatest lesson: What seemed an eternity in seventh grade is an instant in old age. How does one get his head around that notion, especially in our youth-driven, forever-young culture?
That, in turn, becomes exacerbated when he’s beset with debilitating health issues even when not life-threatening. Frustration sets in as he calculates that a six-month recovery period consumes a greater percentage of remaining earth-time for sexa-, septua-, and octogenarians than for thirty or forty somethings. And not only is six months a sizeable percentage of his remaining time, it is also another unpleasantness in an age increasingly beset with additional ills.
In exasperation, he shouts to the Universe: “I don’t have time for this!!!”
But the Universe replies, “Oh, but you do because I gave it to you.”
And that’s the great part: the ultimate life lesson.
I recall the old Kansas song, “Dust in the Wind,” written by Kerry Livgren, reminding us of the Native American wisdom that nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky. While we can intellectually grasp that notion, thinking you’re only dust in the wind remains a downer.
One of our more challenging tasks is to look at and accept what can be most painful as a gift. Old-age ills among them. What does one do with the time that she has that is spent in rehab or suffering? Each must answer that for him/herself.
One can play head games fretting over or living in denial about the diminishing sands of grain in his hourglass of life as Paul Simon sings in “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall.”
Or he can come to appreciate the wisdom of Cat Stevens’ twist on our mortality that he sings in “Oh Very Young”: “You’re only dancin’ on this earth for a short while.” And then dance to the music of your soul in whatever way and as best you can through the dwindling days you’ve been allotted.