As always, let me know what you think.
What is time? Almost anyone on the street would probably answer that it was 2:34, or something similar. That's as far as many go in understanding it. Not what is time, but what time is it? How can it be that we choose to measure its passing, yet still not understand it? Man, for the most part, has chosen to just accept the fact that what is, is. But there are others who look and wonder, “why?”
Early man noticed that the sun always came up in the east, and set in the west. In the spring, the days began to get longer and warmer; in the fall, the days grew shorter and colder. Upon further observation, he noticed that the days were the same length from year to year. Daylight hours contracted and expanded with each passing season. He began to keep track of the phases of the moon, the snows and the rains. Movie writers and directors constantly have Native Americans speaking about events that happened “many moons ago.” Different cultures, especially from the South Pacific, speak about “rains,” much as others use “moons.”
At one time, man was content to keep track of time on a large scale: moons, seasons, rains, etc. But, as man became more “civilized,” he began to break it down into weeks, days, hours and minutes. He developed the calendar, settling on a year being 12 months, each month divided into weeks, each week divided into seven days. In the early west, if a train was only a few hours late, it was considered to be almost on time. Now, if the Bronx subway is a couple of minutes late, the world comes to a stop. How is it that we as a species decided to further divide time from moons to seconds? Did we intend to gain more time in each day? Did we think that by keeping more precise track of time, we would somehow be able to expand our activities or cram more into each day?
When man first looked into the heavens and saw the design and symmetry of nature, he needed to find a way to somehow control what he was seeing and experiencing. Though he could not stop the sun from rising, he could not change the phases of the moon nor could he extend his favorite seasons, he set out to do the only thing that he could: he kept track of them. Days became knots in a cord, “moons” became notches in a stick or log and seasons became pictures on his tent. Change also became a large measure of time. At first, he did not notice that he himself was changing, but he noticed it in others. His children grew from infants to adults. His parents and grandparents grew old and feeble, then they died. This led to other questions. Questions such as, where did they go? Were they coming back soon? Were they only in a deep sleep? Upon looking into a still pond or slow moving river, he noticed that he, too, was going through changes. Hair began to grow gray, skin began to wrinkle and strength began to wane.
Today, man is trying to slow, if not halt, the march of time. Vitamin supplements proclaim that they contain the fountain of youth. Exercise clubs spout facts and figures about a healthy body. Advertisements bombard us with the belief that “you're not as young as you used to be,” or ladies, how about this one, “you're not 19 anymore.” Of course, knowing that we are “only here on this earth for a short while,”? (thanks, Cat) we take it all in and buy everything that promises long life, beautiful, youthful-looking skin and flat stomachs. Our watches tell us the time in seven different countries as well as our own. They also come with stopwatch features that can tell us down to the second how we are doing in relation to the accepted norm. Supervisors at work time how many keystrokes are performed in a given amount of time. Printing presses are run to produce a certain number of impressions per hour. Television and radio commercials are timed to the second.
When a child is four, a year seems like an eternity. But to us, it's not that long (though it may feel like it sometimes!). Remember, the child is four years old, and a year is 25 percent of his life. His parents, who are 33, experience that same year as only three percent of their lives. Remember our parents, who said that time flies by faster the older you get? Think about it. When you're 50, a year is two percent of your life. At 66, a year is 1 1/2 percent. They're right, aren't they? If you were to speak with older folks, and ask them if they have any regrets, many may say something along the lines of, “I only wish I would have spent my time more wisely.” It may be in respect to things that they wish they could have done earlier in their lives, or it could be that they regret not getting to know their children better, before it was too late.
As we grow up, change seems to occur gradually. One day, we're stretching to reach the top of the refrigerator, the next we're getting things from the top shelf for mom because she's too short. Dad would teach us how to throw a baseball, then one day he was begging to cut down the distance because he couldn't throw that far. Girls were the yuckiest things on the face of the earth; but now, when one winks our way, we melt and seem to float on air. It seems like only yesterday that we were riding our bikes with our buddies, just knowing that it was going to last forever. But usually our life-long friends of youth drift away as circumstances and other events intercede in our lives. Finally we are adults. One day, we look down in our arms and see a small, wrinkled face with big eyes staring at us. The cycle of life has begun again. As we once were, now our children are. Small, helpless, fully dependent on us for everything, they begin to experience what we went through as children. We see their hurts as they grow, we feel for them as they learn the hard way. But in them, we see ourselves as we once were: small, helpless, fully dependent on our parents for everything. We once thought we knew it all, and the advice from Mom and Dad fell on deaf ears. Yet now, we can see that Mom and Dad weren't so wrong after all. And the slow, steady beat of time continues.
Time is precious. As parents, we shoot hundreds of pictures of our children each year, and still wish we would have taken more. Why? It's because we realize that time is short, and our children are only young for a few years. Every year, at school picture time, it's like pulling teeth to get the kids to wear something nice and to comb their hair for the picture. They have no idea of the value that parents place on such things. We didn't when we were that age, did we? If you're honest, you'd have to agree. But now that we are older, we appreciate these things more than ever.
Remember the picture of Uncle Matt at the family reunion? We always thought he was a little weird, but that lampshade was the clincher! Have you ever thought about what a picture really is? Oh, not the paper, chemicals or camera that are used; but what it represents. A camera is a light-tight box with a light-sensitive film in the back of the box that is exposed to a controlled burst of light that throws an image on the film. The image is then developed and we get the negative from which the picture is produced. It may seem too technical, but basically, that's what it is. The exposure is set, f-stops are determined with a light-meter, and the picture is taken. Take out some of your oldest photos and look at them. See? There's Grandma, there's Grandpa, there's Mom as a child. What you are looking at is a fraction of a second of light that was captured on a piece of celluloid, then transferred to a sheet of paper. A fraction of time itself is caught on that piece of film. Grandma has long since passed away, yet here she is in all of her youthful exuberance. Time has been brought to a standstill by a simple box. Behind her stands the old clock that had been in her family for 30 years. It's broken now; pieces are stored in several boxes in the attic. The old, gray cat that would rub on your legs, but scratch you if you petted it, is curled up on the sofa that was sold at the estate sale when Grandpa passed away. But here, for 1/25th of a second, they are once again whole and alive. For 1/25th of a second, they are here to enjoy again.
Time. “Time marches on,” “Time and tide wait for no man,” or so they say. Seasons change: the long, hot nights of summer give way to the cool days of fall, which defer to the icy mornings of winter, which in turn relinquish control to the gentle breezes of spring, which turn again into the long, hot nights of summer. The sun and moon march relentlessly across the sky. The constellations, whose courses were charted long before man arrived, travel from horizon to horizon in their nightly journeys. It has been that way for centuries past and will be again for many more to come.
Take a few moments to sit and contemplate your own special time. Think of your children, your parents and grandparents. Revel in your own personal history, because no one else has lived it the way you have. Think of all the good times, as well as the bad. Whether you realize it or not, you have learned from each and every experience. Take the time to remove your watch (no one really cares what time it is in Tokyo, anyway) and turn your calendar to the wall. Turn off your television and radio for a few moments. Then close your eyes and travel back to a time when you were young and carefree. Mom and Dad took care of everything; they always did. Time isn't your enemy, it is your friend.
Man may need clocks and calendars, but the animals know what season they're in. Witness the migration of the birds, the hibernation of the bear and the color change of the wild rabbit. The elk mate in the fall and give birth in the spring. Everything happens in sequence, everything happens in order. The order of time.