Killing time

A little essay on living in the moment, or somewhere nearby.

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with time. When I was young, time seemed to stand between me and everything I wanted: an exciting field trip, my 10th birthday, Christmas… I’ve counted down so many days I’ve lost count. Inevitably Day Zero passed in the blink of an eye, and most of the zeroes have disappeared to wherever memories go when they don’t make the cut. And so began a new countdown to a new Day Zero.

On the other hand, time is a tonic for wounds both physical and emotional. I believe that sometimes time is the only thing that dulls pain’s blade, and all the other things I do to “heal” are really just to distract myself and let time do its work. Maybe it’s a combination of both, but where all else fails time is the true medic. The human body and mind have an innate capacity to heal — it’s what they do naturally — and time is the medium in which they work.

Killing time, whether until excitement or healing, comes with a cost. Killing time is actually a wonderful way to put it: it’s dead. It ain’t coming back, no, no not ever. Yesterday I was an eight year old in Virginia, slithering through an impossibly slender gap under a fence to play fort on someone’s wooded land with my friends in the summer. Today I’m in Providence, RI pushing forty and trying to estimate my last quarterly tax payment for the year.  And I’ve come to two conclusions. One, it was thirty-one years ago that I slithered under fences. Two, it was also only yesterday.

The earth cooled sometime last midnight when I was driving home from from Thanksgiving dinner, and the pyramids were built as I made coffee this morning. What makes this all possible in the physical world is time. It spaces things out in existence as reliably as length or height, just in an ephemeral way that baffles my consciousness. My memory is a device that records everything in the same spot, throwing out time to save storage space. It’s easy to forget how long it took for everything in my memory to happen, and easier to forget that an astonishing portion of my life has been archived. It didn’t make the cut. That time’s blood is on my hands.

Whether a minute takes a second or an eternity to pass is entirely up to my human brain. I can savor a day or simply count it, waiting it to get over with or waiting for a day I’d prefer to be living right now. Either way it passes, and if there’s nothing in my memory to keep it alive, it’s truly and irrevocably gone. For much of my life I did everything I could NOT to live in the moment.

Today I seem to be less willing to sacrifice moments, days or entire years waiting for something more exciting — or just waiting to feel better. I’ve learned the only way out of something is through it, and the way through it exists only in the present moment. Like a gap under a summer fence I slithered under just yesterday.


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