It’s not surprising that the older I get, the more I think about time. I suppose our perception of time is generally commensurate with the time we expect to have left, right? And what if you’re 48 years old facing the possibility of impending mortality? Thinking about time becomes a lot like having a Smith’s song stuck in your head. Dark, man…
The good news is that while I did obsess over it for a period of time, I developed a new and improved relationship with time. Although, admittedly, I haven’t really formally organized my description of this relationship yet so you may be in for some serious word vomit. For this I apologize and understand if you excuse yourself from what may sound nonsensical if not just somewhat disjointed or unclear. Maybe frequent paragraph breaks will help keep things in order. Thanks for giving it a shot either way. Here goes…
Metaphysics can be a nice place to look for answers to big questions when you’re trying to make sense of things. Plus, just the word metaphysics is inherently impressive, communicating both mystique and intellect. It, metaphysics, has quite a few interesting things to say about time, essentially broken into two primary theories, A and B (clever, yeah?). The B-theory would be a nice one to adopt, but I can’t really wrap my brain around it. Wish I could. Can’t. It basically states that time is not dynamic and is not broken into past, present and future but rather kind of one big lump. Consequently, we are never really experiencing the present distinct from the past or future. It’s a more scientifically-based theory because it compares time to space, more specifically, one of the four dimensions of spacetime. uhhhh, yeah, I said spacetime… umm, okay, as I used to say to my kids when asked a question that rendered me clueless, “it’s hard to explain – google it.” Anyway, it’s kind of a nice, little theory, B, for those wanting to live in the moment. ‘Cuz it’s all one big moment, y’know?
The A-theory believes that the past, present and future are all distinct of each other. The present is the most real, and events of the past lose realness as they are further away from the present. Some subscribers to this theory – they’re called presentists- google it, kids, it’s hard to explain – state that only the present is real and that past events only existed as they were happening, just as future events won’t exist until they happen, and will cease to exist when they are past.. Duuuuuude…..! I don’t really know much more about this but my nominal understanding leads me to believe that I align more with the A-theory subscribership. At least for today.
For a time, I was terrified thinking that I may only live for months, or a few years. I had always measured my remainder of life, of time, by my expectation that I would live to be around 95 years old. This seemed reasonable, given the longevity in my family. So there were always X years left, around 40ish at last assessment. I remember being acutely aware when I got to the half-way point that I was there and from then on the glass of time was half full and emptying. It never even occurred to me that I may have to recalibrate my time meter.
During the testing and waiting of not knowing where I stood with cancer, I reflected on the question of quality vs. quantity when it comes to time. I asked my friends who didn’t have cancer (the majority, thankfully) what their choice would be between 10 amazing years of pure bliss or 40 years of a mediocre life. I got all kinds of answers and several negotiations.
I determined that I’d rather, as hard as it is to say, have the amazing 10 years. There. I said it.
I am slowly changing the way I look at time, developing my own theory. Maybe I should name it. Never mind. Not feeling it. Regardless, my theory debunks the idea of a time lump and recognizes a distinct past, present and future. I have also expanded its view to include the value I place on each. The value directly relates to the “realness” of a moment in my theory, which can be totally different for everyone. The goal of time, in my theory (I totally should have given it a name; it would have flowed so much better than me having to say “in my theory” over and over) is to be 100% present in the moment. A moment, in my theory (now I’m just entertaining myself), can encompass any or all past, present and future thoughts, actions or events but the primary perspective should encapsulate the present moment.
I measure the value of my past in terms of the wisdom or insight I have taken away from it and for these reasons, my past is a tremendously valuable and very real part of my life. Having said this, although it may be part of my collective experience, I don’t want it to be my focus. I don’t want to spend my time agonizing over mistakes or mourning the passing of good times. In that way, I suppose there is some benefit to the idea that the reality of a moment diminishes as the moment moves further into the past. Who has room for multiple realities? Wait. Don’t answer that.
The future is another story. It is so natural to think ahead of our present moment that it takes some serious practice and repetition to resist the urge. It’s one thing to look forward to, say, a winter trip to Cabo (can’t wait) or graduation from business school (it’s taking FOREVER) but when you constantly look forward and place real value on things that haven’t even happened yet, that don’t actually exist yet, you run a serious risk of missing out on living. Those who operate like this may likely end up in Cabo having breakfast on their balcony overlooking the beach talking about what they should have done yesterday and what they probably won’t have time to do later, totally oblivious to the sun that has rising over the ocean for the past hour. You don’t want to do that.
So, and I think it’s obvious at this point, the award for greatest value proposition in the spectrum of time…goes to…LIFE IN REAL TIME! Congratulations, present.
There are many well-known attributes to this practice: purity of experience, authenticity, the super cool tingly feeling that happens when you are able to almost literally breathe in a moment? The sense of satisfaction felt when you are able to slow the f@*l down and experience the beauty and energy and wonder surrounding you? Who wouldn’t want that good stuff?
I also, as an afterthought, had another realization which I’ll add on to this theory which, I’ve just decided, I am no longer calling a theory but a concept. Another, and less cliche, benefit of living in the present moment is that moments seem much more enjoyable then calendar metrics. Ten years, 120 months, 3,650 days, or millions of moments? For me, it’s moments. I like thinking that I have millions of moments. I like the idea that a moment can’t be quantified so that there will be an infinite amount of them in whatever remaining time i have. I like the idea that I’m not going to be a passive observer of my surroundings or have passive relationships with people that I love and that I haven’t exhausted my time dwelling on the past or stressing about the future.
Most of all, I like the challenge on me to put up some really outstanding moments, to make them count without holding back or lunging forward, and to recognize the extra special moments as rare gifts, deserving of my full attention.
It’s just a theory, a concept. I realize that it’s a little loose and I anticipate that it will evolve over time, though I’m not going to give it that much thought, because it doesn’t really matter. I’ll be here, doing my best to stay present and to share life with my favorite people, not counting years but rather content in the knowledge that I exist within an endless sea of moments, each its own opportunity to experience life as it is happening, in real time.
And now, as a surprise bonus for reaching the end of this post, even after I practically begged you to abandon ship, I will post a few lyrics from one of my very favorite songs. It is pretty much apropo of nothing here, although it does mention time quite a bit. Sing it, Boy.
But time is precious I know
In time we could’ve been so much more
The time has nothing to show because
Time won’t give me time
And time makes lovers feel
Like they’ve got something real
But you and me we know
We got nothing but time