“FLY,envious Time,till thou run out thy race: Callon the lazy leaden-stepping Hours, Whose speed is but the heavy plummet’s pace; And glut thyself with what thy womb devours, Which is no more than what is false and vain, And merely mortal dross; So little is our loss, So little is thy gain!” – John Milton, On Time
One day as I hustled from classes to work and from work to classes I was stuck by the thought, “Why is there so little time in the day?” We all live in time, yet it is a concept that we think little about. We feel driven onward by it, but never stop to imagine what it would be like if time worked differently, or stopped working entirely. Of course we do have the silly little saying, “time flies when you’re having fun.” Upon reflection, however, this seems not to be so silly after all. In fact, it is quite profound. Time really does seem to have an elasticity to it. Unfortunately, this elasticity seems to work in the exact opposite way that we would like it to.Time always seems to drag on when we are in pain or waiting anxiously for something, and it seems to fly by when we are the most happy. If this is true, then all we need for a long life is to do is suffer throughout it, but if we want to live a happy life, it will pass us by like a warm summer breeze. The choice is happiness or longevity; we can’t have both. At least in this world.
Aristotle tells us in his Physics that “Time is the measure of change.”If that is true,then perhaps we can get a grip on why time seems is so elastic at times. When we hope for change the measure stands out more prominently, an ever present element nagging at us in our anxious wait.In cases of suffering, our mind is always turned towards a future time when the suffering will leave us.We measure the hours and minutes, hoping fervently for a time when we may be relieved. One who has ever suffered from, or watched a loved one suffer from a debilitating disease knows this.
When we wish for things to remain as they are time seems to pass most quickly. Having given up on consciously measuring time, it slips through our hands and runs off leaving us with only memories. But because we do not measure the time these moments actually seem the most timeless, even if they are the most fleeting. How many of us have been lost in a great book, or a thrilling movie only to look to the clock and realize that hours have passed?
I often have this experience when I am able to lay out on a clear country night and gaze up at the stars. Worries of the future and concerns of the past fade away into nothing and I am left wholly in the present contemplating only what is of the moment. Only my own thoughts and the sublime beauty of the night sky exist at those moments.In these moments the higher portions of our nature dominate, and we are capable of forgetting the ever changing concerns of this world to peer into another where things are everlasting. Our biological processes continue and the world still passes around us, but our soul comes to rest and is soothed. In the midst of experiences such as these we are truly living within a timeless moment—a moment in which all our cares subside and we join in the eternal song of the universe. It is only once the moment is over and we are plunged back into our temporal world that it seems to have passed so quickly.
If we could draw out these moments and extend them over the whole of our lives,then it seems we would finally be able to live what the philosophers call the good life. It would be a life in which we hope for no change because every moment is as good as the last and we know that every future moment will be just the same.
Yet this is not possible, given corporeal lives that we lead. Good things simply do not last forever, despite our most fervent hopes and prayers that they will. Everyone inevitably faces pain and suffering at some point in their lives. Trust is betrayed, hearts are broken, jobs are lost, loved ones pass away, and the elements wreak havoc on our bodies. It is ingrained in the very nature of our existence. Often, we despair and turn cynical, questioning what the purpose of all this pain could be. The purpose is to point us back to those timeless moments, and to impress upon us that our souls were made with higher purposes in mind. It is to remind us that the happiness we are creating, and the timelessness we experience in this world is not the end all purpose of our lives. Pain rouses us from our contentedness and shows us that no matter how timeless a moment may feel, it is only a shadow of things yet to come. Pain shows us that we are but temporal creatures, and that we ought not to make ourselves too comfortable in this world because time is dragging us along not only towards more pain and suffering, but towards death. Pain reminds us that we must look beyond this life if we wish to find the truly timeless and everlasting. Yet we ought not to despair, for if the timeless moments here soothe our soul’s longing for the eternal, then what is to come will make them rejoice.