“To begin thinking about time, we might take all the verbs we like to think we do to time and turn those verbs on us, and say time wastes us, and time saves and buys us, that time spends us, and time marks and kills us. We live as the direct objects of verbs we hoped we could command.”
— William Matthews
I love these lines. Time is in control and we are not, at least not really. There’s something sort of hopeless in what the poet, William Matthews, is saying here. The actual verbs in our lives are out of our control. We are marked, wasted, killed by time.
Yes, that sounds sad. But sometimes the hopeless sorts of expressions flip back for me, where I actually find some kind of hope in them. Maybe I’m just a weirdo. The sad song is often uplifting to me. Words intended to raise my spirits can sometimes bring me down, while the thing that should be sorrowful is a kind of a release from tension.
I wrote about control in last week’s column. I guess I have more thoughts on that today, particularly in relation to time. Who doesn’t want to control time? It’s one of our primary fixations. We want our youth to come back, our children to stay young and innocent, our good days to stretch on forever and our bad ones to pass quickly. We are tricked by hours at night that pass in a blink as alarms signal it’s time to rise. We watch clocks in our games and at our jobs. We observe the tone of our arms and waists, the tint of our hair. We move on an unseen escalator or airport conveyor belt, hardly aware of the bigger motion, until sometimes it seems time is moving as fast as passing trees as we speed on an interstate.
I quit wearing a watch some time ago. I had a Fitbit for awhile, which died. Now, I have a phone in my pocket, which I pull out to check the time. But I keep telling myself I’m going to buy a decent watch to wear again. Something about time on my wrist feels right. Maybe it’s as symbolic as the wedding ring on my finger. It’s a marriage to movement of days, weeks, months, years. Maybe that’s just dumb. I don’t know.
But I spend much of my time contemplating time. Do you? I like thinking of microseconds. When I had my first digital watch as a child, I got great joy out of testing how fast I could start and stop the stopwatch button. It became a sport. I challenged friends in my class. I like thinking of the speed of light, how the sun’s light has a brief journey to us. At one point in my life, I could have raced the sunlight from the sun. It goes 93 million miles in eight minutes. I go one. I’d surely lose that now, but maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe you can beat an eight-minute mile. (I need to make that a goal again.)
I like thinking of spacetime, how it can bend, how aging can be different based on space and time. Think about this: there is light out there from long ago that is still billions of years from reaching us. Those ideas are a weird kind of comfort, a reminder that I’m small and so are my problems in the scheme of things. I am only here a short time.
I don’t know how to bring comfort to anyone else, not really. I don’t know how to even bring comfort for myself many days, but the world is full of discomfort at the moment. I can see that very clearly. Surely, you can too. We also all know that we have precious little time here. So, how do we use our time, serving as comfort or discomfort to others?
When I feel the pull of rough stuff, which is quite a lot, I try to keep my chin from sinking too deep in the dark water by thinking about time and how it’s a limited resource for me and how I don’t want to allow my bad side to grab all my time. I want the good side to own more of it. Maybe that sounds hokey. Maybe it is. But I told you. I think about time all the time. And this is the conclusion I came to — at least today. Maybe that will change in time. Things usually do, right?
Now, look at the time. Hope yours wasn’t wasted.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.