What is time?
Does anyone else on lockdown struggle to remember what day it is? In our present situation the very structure of our week has been taken away. What does a weekend mean anymore? I have taken this a step further, and have stopped wearing a watch – there are no longer any appointments to keep, so apart from breaking the day up with eating, why do I need to know what the time is? I could even choose to live by the natural rhythms of the sun like our ancient ancestors, rather than the human-created Greenwich Mean Time: it has a certain liberating appeal.
Some who are staying at home, might find that the days drag, and that time without structure is a burden. Others may find so many projects and plans to occupy themselves with that the days don’t seem long enough. Others may find they fluctuate between keeping busy, and “wasting time.”
The experience for those who are working on the front line, is very different. They are busier than ever, many doing very demanding roles, and in their time off they are having to catch up on those tasks of daily life that the rest of us can take our time over; the idea of having time to sit and do nothing must seem to them like a luxury they cannot imagine.
Those whose loved ones are ill, at home or in care homes or in hospital – for them time must sit very heavily, as each moment they are wondering whether their relative or friend will recover. And for others whose loved ones have recently died, and for any who have been bereaved, time can feel like a void which is only filled with the painful emotions of grief.
How we experience time depends on our circumstances, our feelings, and our thoughts:
“Time is too slow for those who wait,
too swift for those who fear,
too long for those who grieve,
too short for those who rejoice…”
Yesterday I was able to walk down to Ventnor beach as my daily exercise. I listened to the rhythm of the waves breaking on the shore, and watched the sun glinting on the water; it was wonderful. The tides are not controlled by a human system, but by the natural rhythms of the moon. There have been some clear nights recently, and I sat in my garden and gazed up at the heavens, looking for shooting stars. The measurement of time for stars and planets is on a scale unimaginable to most of us; it makes our earthly system of days, hours, minutes, seem ludicrous.
The sea and the night sky always give me a sense of perspective on the concept of time and on my tiny place in the created order of the universe, and I am reminded of the verse in Psalm 8.3,4 which says
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them? (NRSV)
My cat has just joined me as I write. She has stretched herself out in a sunny spot and fallen asleep. For her, there is no measurement of time that matters, only the moment. If only we could live like a cat, perhaps we would be more peaceful and contented! We can only live in the here and now, accepting the reality of our circumstance, however painful, and realising that it will change eventually, because nothing stays the same: “this too shall pass.” We can only live now, recognising the wisdom in the natural world as well as the beauty that it offers. And we can choose to live in the present, meaningfully and in a way that transcends all limits of time and space.
“for those who love, time is eternity.”
(Henry van Dyke 1853-1933)