With the notable exception of theoretical physics experts and those who have been experimenting with quantum entanglements and the study of anomalous events in the universe, such as black holes, most people believe that time is a constant. It is a fixed measurement that progresses as predictable rate and to which we must all heed and adhere.
The perception of time is a completely different matter. Despite the very impersonal sense of time as a variable, we think of it differently than perhaps mass or volume. We talk about time like a living, breathing thing that can ravage or crawl. It can change course and speed. Perhaps it is due to this almost sentient and entity-like aspect, time becomes more malleable and something of science fiction. Because with human perception you add the of the human experience with hopes, expectations, and apprehensions, time can speed or slow sometimes even within the span of one day. Most of us can remember adults and elders in our youth talking about how time seems to fly by while we weary travelers as children had to clock the seconds and hours slowly awaiting holiday, recess, or any other anxiously awaited event. It is that variability and fluidity that might even lead one to suspect that time might be manipulated.
Even as adults, most of us still experience that lack of consistency when the clock seems to race out of control when a project deadline approaches or might slow to a crawl when we’re stuck in a meeting. For each of us who have scheduled time off or vacation, we’ve felt how the hours might drag until that 5 o’clock whistle after a very long and exhausting week, but the hours of the weekend or planned time away race by, and we find ourselves all too quickly back at the beginning of that first day of the work week with a long stretch of days and hours before us. For parents, you have probably experienced both the over zealous passage of time when you blink and the children you love appear before you as adults, but perhaps you also remember when you wondered if the time would ever come that you weren’t cleaning up apocalyptic messes and strange scientific experiments found under beds or were able to downsize to a shoulder bag that wasn’t roughly the equivalent of a suitcase because it was impossible to go out unprepared for every eventuality of parenting woe.
One of the most difficult time anomalies is grief. For those who have suffered loss, the time seems to stand still. It can feel as if the world stopped turning just for you and will never regain a normal rate, but the passage of time for everyone else continued a pace without notice. However, you find eventually that years have passed. You wonder how you missed the time going by and moving forward. You ask, how did that happen? Or can it really have been a decade? And, yet, sometimes the grief stabs with surprising intensity at unexpected moments, still fresh and clear and painful, almost as if no time has passed at all. While time does pass, and the pain eventually dulls, it can sometimes bridge the gaps to present images and emotions as clear as the day they originally formed with no fading. That is, again, the difference between the constant and the human perception. We call it memory, and even when painful, it can often be precious.
One of my favorite depictions of that strange difference between the constant of time and the human perception was penned by Shakespeare. And so… I will let the Bard take the stage to describe:
ROSALIND: By no means, sir. Time travels in diverse paces with diverse persons. I’ll tell you who time ambles withal, who time trots withal, who time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.
ORLANDO: I prithee, who doth he trot withal?
ROSALIND: Marry, he trots hard with a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemnized. If the interim be but a se’nnight, time’s pace is so hard that it seems the length of seven year.
ORLANDO: Who ambles time withal?
ROSALIND: With a priest that lacks Latin and a rich man that hath not the gout, for the one sleeps easily because he cannot study and the other lives merrily because he feels no pain—the one lacking the burden of lean and wasteful learning, the other knowing no burden of heavy tedious penury. These time ambles withal.
ORLANDO: Who doth he gallop withal?
ROSALIND: With a thief to the gallows, for though he go as softly as foot can fall, he thinks himself too soon there.
ORLANDO: Who stays it still withal?
ROSALIND: For lawyers on vacation, because they sleep their holidays away, with no sense of how time moves.
Thus, until the next… may time treat you well.