A slave to time

Our master isn’t our spouse, our boss, our kids, but a piece of jewelry on our left wrist.

“The bird of time has but a little way to fly and lo, the bird is on the wing,” Omar Khayyam wrote 800 years ago in The Rubaiyat.

 Poetry is studded with references and allusion to time:

“If we had but world enough and time, this coyness lady were no crime,” wrote Andrew Marvell in To His Coy Mistress.

 In the same poem, he coined the now familiar phrase, “but at my back I always hear, time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”

While we lack the way with words of history’s master poets, we feel time’s passing, and check our wrist enough to give ourselves tendonitis.

We rush from one thing to another, always a little behind, talking on our cellphone, ignoring yellow lights, trying to outrace time. We’re like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland checking his pocket watch, muttering to himself, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!”

That could be the mantra for the modern man and woman because time feels as though it’s flowing faster than it did 100 plus year ago, faster than 10 years ago. With each passing year, it seems that no matter how much we hurry, or mutli-task, there is never enough time.

Chaining ourselves to time started innocently enough. Sundials, clocks and calendars helped synchronize our events with nature. If the calendar indicated it was May and time to plant, but there was snow on the ground, we knew it was time to get a new calendar, or a new way of reckoning time.

We don’t rely only on external clocks to help us get through the day. We also have two internal clocks — the 24-hour circadian, and an interval timer, which counts out familiar amount of time, like a yellow traffic light: can we make it or squeal to a stop.

One of the big questions our best minds ask is, is time real and does it matter? We leave the scientists to discuss the three arrows of time, but we don’t need an astrophysicist to tell us that time flows differently when we sit on a hot stove than it does when we say goodbye to someone we love.

“The concept, that all progress is relative, has come to be known in biology by the name of the Red Queen, after a chess piece that Alice meets in Through the Looking Glass, who perpetually runs without getting very far because the landscape moves with her,” Matt Ridley wrote in The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature.

“The faster you run, the more the world moves with you and the less you make progress.”

That describes our world; we run like the Red Queen, but don’t seem to get anywhere for all our effort and angst, except further behind. And unless we make a conscious choice to slow down, it’s going to get worse.

Scientists have sliced and diced the second into a billionth of a billionth. The blink of an eye happens in one-tenth of a second. That might not affect us day to day, but it illustrates how life is speeding up.

Pretty soon, we’ll feel like we’re moving at the speed of light, which might solve some of our problems because at 186,282.2 miles per second, time stops.

But until that time, maybe we need a new strategy, maybe it’s time to slow down and wait for time to catch us; then, we might realize, as scientists and mystics have, that we only have right now, that we’re missing our life in our drive to get everything done.

“We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand — and melting like a snowflake,” said Marie B. Ray.

We get so caught up in the nine to five that we simply don’t see the many perfect moments that make up our lives. Sometimes it takes a catastrophe for us to recognize that how beautiful and fragile life is.

Eugene O’Kelly, the 40-year-old chairman of KPMG (U.S.) found that out when doctors discovered three tumours in his brain, and they would kill him within a year. If we’re real smart, we don’t have to be told that death is imminent to appreciate that all our moments are perfect.

“A perfect moment was a little gift of a moment or an hour or an afternoon. Its actual length was never the issue,” he wrote in Chasing Daylight: How my Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life.

“The key thing was you had to be open to the perfect moment. The radiation machine breaks down; one hour is going to come and go, an hour you can hardly spare; but then you accept that machines break down. You don’t get frustrated. You remember that it is a waste of energy.

“You focus instead on something pleasing. The rhythm of your own breathing. The intricacy of the person seated across from you. The beautiful poem your daughter wrote called Travellers Fear. The colour of the sky out the window.”

His wife wrote the final chapter of the book.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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