They say that the older you get, the faster time goes by. It makes sense. When you’re ten, a year lasts forever. It’s a different story at forty. This is related to theoretical physics, which holds that time increases with distance. The distance in this case has to do with years, not feet or miles. The greater the distance in years from the original “Big Bang” of your conception, the faster time goes by. But is this relativity at work in daily experience, or is something else going on?
I think it’s the latter. You can blame the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant said that we experience and describe reality–what’s out there–in terms of our subjectivity–what’s in the noggin. Objective reality exists, but the greater part of what we take for the real world is simply a construction of our minds. For both Kant and Einstein, this included time.
What counts regarding time and the passing of it is the quality of our experience. In other words, as Mark Twain wrote, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter.”
The problem is that most of us do mind, and so it matters a great deal whether we are old or young. Actually, it matters whether we are perceived as old or young. I shouldn’t have to go through how this plays out in popular culture and corporate America, both of which glorify youth and consumption. The industries, companies, celebrities, and movements are all too familiar by now. The irony is that the call to live life to the fullest is the same thing that kills youth by speeding up time. It creates a gap between where we were and where we want to be that increases dramatically with each new experience.
Think about it. When you are young every new experience, whether a person or event, presents itself as a marvel, a thing of awe and wonder. Can you remember the first time you tasted ice cream, rode a bus, played a violin? These things demanded your full attention and absorbed you. You had to be present to them and encounter them on their own terms rather than on yours. They probably made you laugh with joy. And it’s not just the “firsts” in life that count but the way we participate in every experience.
I wouldn’t say that we become jaded when we age. It’s not that. It’s more about becoming accustomed to things and expecting certain outcomes rather than anticipating what lies ahead when we wake up in the morning. We lose the joy that comes with uncertainty and the unknown. If you think that is a remarkable statement, even foolish, consider Jesus’ admonition to his disciples to become like little children or they would not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:3). And consider the Our Father, which includes a petition for “daily bread” as opposed to the next day, month, or year. Jesus wanted his disciples to rely on God, not themselves.
I like to think I am learning this lesson; that is, learning to unplug and turn off the distractions that prevent me from being present and seeing the marvel in front of me. I am not there yet, but then age has a way of pulling us out of our egos. It slows us down and gives us perspective. Being out of the game, or nearly out of it, we are able to see what is really going on and maybe get closer to that objective reality we are always searching for.
In addition, an amazing thing happens. Time begins to slow down again, to resume its former pace and return us to an age when we took nothing for granted and wondered about everything that crossed our path, good and bad.
So, my wish for everyone and my pledge to myself for the new year is to slow down the clock, to return to my youth in this one way. Who knows? I may even end up a better human being.
God knows, it won’t be easy.