The time in our lives

Einstein originally came up with the relationship between space and time known as the space-time continuum. How Stuff Works .com explains this in an article about how warp speed works in relationship to Captain Kirk and his Enterprise team. It all has to do with traveling at or above the speed of light. According to How Stuff Works:

Einstein realized that space and time are relative — an object in motion actually experiences time at a slower rate than one at rest. Although this may seem absurd to us, we travel incredibly slow when compared to the speed of light, so we don’t notice the hands on our watches ticking slower when we’re running or traveling on an airplane. Scientists have actually proved this phenomenon by sending atomic clocks up with high-speed rocket ships. They returned to Earth slightly behind the clocks on the ground.

My mind was never able to fully grasp this concept before and it still remains a mystery to me.

I have experienced time running slow or fast, however. Sitting in a boring 50-minute history class in high school the minutes dragged by. I know this because I saw every one of them pass as I watched the clock on the wall above the door that led to freedom. Now, in these middle years of my life, the days fly past me like a leaf on the wind.

Time is a mystery. Maybe that’s because we think of time as a container for other things. I think of the time spent with our children and grandchildren that flashes past with moments of love and pride and laughter. I think of the finite number of days we’ll spend together in this lifetime and how we spend each one down never knowing how close we are to the end.

I started thinking about the concept of time because I was thinking about the book that I self-published. This has been a tough month with very low sales and it makes me feel, in some ways, like a failure. When I recognized that, I became able to deal with it. I’m not looking for reassurance that I was a flaming success because I wrote the book, edited it, and published it. I understand this to be a big accomplishment for me. The point I think I’m trying to make is that I feel bad about it because I feel like I am running out of time to make a success of myself.

I don’t know if I would have felt that way if I would have had a career with promotions, or a savings account from the money I’d made while working the last 30 years at a job. I stayed at home to raise our children, and although in my finer moments I realize this to be an accomplishment, a success, a fine use of the time in my life, at other times the doubt or inner drive and aspiration unsettles me.

On just a practical level, here in this house I have projects I’ve started that I’d like to finish. For example, I want to finish scanning photos from old magnetic non-archival photo albums to put them in better albums and create digital files to share with our children. I’m about half way done. I have the photos. I have the scanner. I have the new albums with plenty of spare empty pages. What I don’t seem to be able to find is the time.

My writing, reading, photography, needlework, gardening, genealogy—all of these are pursuits I want to follow. But there never seems to be enough time.

And that is the truth of the matter. I realized that in midlife. There will never be enough time to do all the things I’d like to do. Somehow I never really thought in those terms when I was younger and time seemed more of  a friend to me.

Now time chases ahead of me and I am forced to make careful and conscious decisions of how I will spend this valuable, priceless commodity.

I hope Einstein is right. I hope as I slow down with age, time will slow down with me. Only time will tell.

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23 thoughts on “The time in our lives”

  1. I can identify with so much of what you wrote today. I chose the non career path when the boys were born and I have no regrets whatsoever about that. Did we have difficult times financially because of the decision to not work? Yes, but when I needed to I stepped in and helped with the financial aspect of the family. As I find myself not working again now I find that I do fritter away a lot of time but I am also available to do some of the things that I would not be able to do if I did work. Like go spend 6 months in Ohio cleaning and getting a house ready to sell. I have all of those photos and I, like you, have started the process but it seems to take forever because with each picture scanned I have to take time to reminisce about the circumstances around it!!!! 🙂 It is all good and I guess we just do what we can do given the time that we have and when it all boils down —the things that matter most in life to me are relationships and if I can keep nurturing those then I have been successful in my life. Don’t be too hard on yourself—you have done amazing things and continue to do amazing things.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Beth. I don’t have any regrets about staying home to raise our children, although I did struggle with it at times (probably because of my greedy ego if you read Nancy’s comment below.) I’ve got to learn how to shut that thing up.

      The scanning is a big project, but I’m not giving up yet. Just taking a 3, 4, or 5-year break. 🙂

      It sounds like you’ve got your priorities straight.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Kathy. I’m not sure there is a good answer for it, because sometimes wasting time is the best thing we can be doing. It’s a tricky business.

  2. I understand your frustration. I never seem to have enough time to follow all of my interests and I wonder if I focus on the wrong ones. Remember the sale of your book is not what determines your success…You’re a wonderful person; to me that makes you rich beyond measure and successful at life.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Susan. I do feel rich with life’s gifts, just not particularly successful personally. And perhaps that’s only in the ways society typically measures success.

      I’ll be thinking about you tomorrow. I hope it all goes well.

  3. I’m not sure you will get you wish for time to slow down. Consider how long it takes for the month before Christmas or a birthday party for a 6-year old. While I’m not a mathematician, I can see that the month in question is a much larger (comparatively) amount of time to the child. A single year is one sixth of this his life.

    For you, or me, who have tacked on a good many years, a single year is a much smaller amount of time (again, comparatively).

    You are not alone in feeling the tightness in the stomach and throat that reminds us that the time left to make our mark gets shorter every day.

    Perhaps, to our benefit, though, is that same realization. I find I don’t put off the writing projects any more. I find myself thinking of little else as each day passes. The new ideas are still coming, and the energy for work still abides.

    I’m reminded of the story of the man who is chased by the tiger, and who slips and goes over a cliff, finding himself hanging on over the abyss by a single vine. The tiger above, the abyss below. Then he notices a berry growing on the vine, and manages to pluck and eat it, and as the story goes.. “oh, the berry was sweet!”

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Richard. I know you’re probably right about the relative length of time versus percentage of age.

      It probably is a benefit to be aware of the time slipping by if it motivates us as you suggest. I would feel better if I had a better sense of priorities. I hate giving up something that I would like to do or accomplish.

      I loved your anecdote. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Old photos are a precious memory. Most of my old photos are somewhat faded and not fantastic to start with. Instead of scanning, I find it saves a lot of time just to take a photo of the photo. I can still crop and improve the color if I wish. The difficulty is setting up the light to that there’s no glare or reflection.
    Wishing you many pleasant hours at your projects!

  5. I think what you wrote is the experience of many people. No matter what we have accomplished, I think most people would like to accomplish more, and we appreciate more and more how many worthwhile things there are to do in life, and how there is no way we will ever have time to do them all. That was one of the wise pieces of advice my father has given me: when we hit middle age, we need to acknowledge and come to peaceful terms with the fact that there are things we will never be able to do. We just have to decide what really matters to us, and stick to it, accepting ourselves for who we are.
    As far as time speeding up as we get older – I think it’s caused by at least two psychological factors.
    One is that we measure time against our experience. For a five year old, one year is a significant percentage of her lifetime, and an even more significant part of the time that she can really remember. It seems to last forever. For a fifty year old, one year is a much smaller percentage of the time she has consciously lived.
    It’s much like the way we perceive size. I used to think that my home parish was normal sized, and the larger parish in the neighboring town was big, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York was gigantic. Later in life, I have traveled the world a bit more, and seen churches like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Nossa Senhora Aparecida in Brazil, both of which dwarf St. Patrick’s in New York. Now, almost all churches in America look small to me. My former home parish looks tiny.
    I think another reason why time seems to go faster, is that traveling through unfamiliar territory requires more attention to the world around us, and can make time seem to last longer, whereas familiar experiences require less attention and seem to pass more quickly. This is not always the case, but there is a familiar example that I think illustrates well what I mean. At least for me, when I drive someplace new, it almost always seems to take much longer than when I retrace my steps on the way home. The first time, I have to pay attention to road signs and other landmarks, and I am waiting anxiously to find the next place where I have to change direction; the more familiar I am with it, the less I have to worry and ask, “when will I be there?” So each time I travel along that path, it seems that it goes faster. The longer we live, the more familiar the path of life becomes, and the less we are on the lookout for cues and novelties, so time seems to go by much faster.
    I can’t back these ideas up with any scientific study, but they makes sense to me…
    Beautiful photo, by the way.

    1. Thanks for sharing your father’s sage advice about coming to peace with the fact that there are things I will never be able to do. I think that is the crux of my struggle. (Did he happen to give any tips on how exactly to do that?)

      I always wondered why it seemed to be quicker going home than traveling away – “familiar experiences require less attention and seem to pass more quickly.” I think there may be a much bigger lesson in there. Some way to harness time, perhaps.

      I appreciate you taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. Thank you.

  6. True success lies ONLY in how much we are enjoying life.

    Any other measure is illusion . . . the grasping for external accolades and applause by the “false self” (the greedy Ego never feels it has achieved ENOUGH recognition).

    If you are happily engaged . . . your life is a success:

    I am grateful for what I am and have.
    My thanksgiving is perpetual . . .
    O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches.
    No run on my bank can drain it
    for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.
    ~ Henry David Thoreau

    Everything else is just building a tunnel to nowhere . . . like the ants in the Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm. 😀

    1. Thanks for pointing that out about the “greedy ego.” I think you hit the nail on the head with that one.

      But who says “if you are happily engaged your life is a success?” Don’t I have to feel successful by my own standards?

      I’m going to think on “building a tunnel to nowhere” for a while.

    2. For me “enjoying life” is synonymous with feelings of inner peace, joy, hope, happiness, etc, Without inner peace, I would feel conflict and that conflict would signal to me that I am not doing what I came here to do. Until I resolved the conflict, I would not feel successful no matter how many other people approved of my actions.

      We do need to define for ourselves the meaning of “success” (e.g., a life well lived). So, for example, if you decided that success in life means being a “dutiful daughter” or “loving mother” or a “televangelist” or an “organic farmer” . . . it’s probably because you feel, at some level, that stepping into those roles will make you happy.

      If you found that you were consistently “unhappy” in those roles, I expect that you would shift your goals to lessen the “inner conflict” . . . as long as you had the freedom to do so.

      For this reason, I believe that Happiness is the goal behind all other goals. But I could be wrong. And it wouldn’t be the first time. 😉

  7. I’ve had to rearrange everything in my life to enable the doing of one main thing. Everything left in my life revolves around it. Now that I’ve made that statement, I question whether it’s true. I have retained a block of time for myself. I protect it. I’m quite a wind bag, aren’t I? No, don’t answer. Let me keep guessing.

    I read your self-published book. It’s worthwhile. What else should count? You did a good job of writing it. I feel like I know you and your family. Most of all, I feel like I know Annie. What a darling she is. I can’t wait to meet her.

    1. I’m glad you said that about rearranging everything in your life around the main thing. I know my mom feels that way, and for her it is largely true. I think this is the plight of the heavily involved caregiver.

      I don’t . . .oh wait, I’m supposed to keep you guessing. Never mind.

      Thanks for reading Annie’s story. I wrote it exactly so people would “know” Annie. It’s validating to hear you say so.

      Be strong and hang in there. You’re doing good.

  8. I have the same trouble with time. There just isn’t enough to do all the things I want to do. The days speed by as I try to fit everything in. I keep wondering if I shouldn’t pare the “wants” down so i can devote time to a few rather than try to do everything. But if time slows down with motion, maybe I should just keep moving. 🙂

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