When time is no longer on your side

Thursday, May 27, 2004

"Time is on my side."

Remember that one? And remember the feeling you had when you were singing along with The Rolling Stones? Time did seem to stretch before you like an endless horizon. It was your own private stash and you could squander it any way you wanted.

Now that song seems like a cruel taunt. Where did it go? And why does it go so quickly? Everyone I know who has passed the benchmark of 40 wonders, bemoans and curses this apparent "fact" about time.

Betsy, a 54-year-old mom of two young teenagers, offers this observation: "When I was small. time went by so slowly. But now my kids say all the time that time whips by so fast. I wonder if it is really true that time speeds up just because you get older. It seems faster now all together."

This brings up an interesting question about our perceptions of time. Are we speeding everything up because of how we are choosing to live our lives these days? Just like Betsy's children -- who I know carry a schedule that rivals that of Condoleezza Rice -- are we living in such a way that potentiates the already speedy nature of time as we get older?

In this age of multitasking, cell phones and e-mail, when are we stopping to smell the proverbial roses? How many times in the past month have you ordered a coffee or given your deposit to a teller at the bank while talking on a cell phone? In other words, there are ways to slow down time. We just need to take the time to do it.

Is our experience of time as a madcap roadrunner just a figment of our perceptions? A couple of my "advisers" on the subject seem to think so.

"Have you ever noticed that when you go on a trip, it seems to take longer to get there than when you take the trip home?" poses Patrick, 57. "Our lives are like that. After a certain age, we are on the return part of the trip."

Barry, 61, explains it this way: "As I age, time is a drastically different experience. A year is now extremely brief and a day happens in a flash. After all, as a child a year was perhaps one tenth of my life. Now it is only a 60th of my life and hardly any time at all."

For many of us our experience of time is forever changed with the loss of a parent. This happened to Liz,46, last year.

"After my mother died, time instantly became finite.Time used to be a luxury. Now, it's an opportunity with a deadline."

Without a parent standing between us and mortality, we are more exposed to the "deadline." And, as Liz points out, there is opportunity there. If you no longer assume that you will be here forever, time takes on a meaning that it can't possibly have without an awareness of its finiteness. And this "meaningful awareness" is an advantage we have over our video game-playing youth.

Liz elaborates: "So here we are, somewhere betwixt the stirrup and the ground, knowing so much more than the youth who have the youthfulness we all covet. Time may take away our memory and collagen, but it does give us something in return: experience, wisdom and perspective."

I agree. Time may not be the thief it is usually portrayed to be. Maybe, just maybe, time is on our side after all.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a Cape Girardeau native who is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 20 years experience helping individuals and couples with their emotional and relationship issues. He has a private practice in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@semissourian.com.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: