The Illusion of Time

I was reminded yesterday yet again of just how bad I am at figuring out how long ago something happened. I was talking to a coworker who, in my mind, has been working with me perhaps half the time I’ve been at my job. In my head, they came on “a while” after I started, and so that works out to about 8 years ago, give or take. When I asked them how long they’d really been here, I discovered I was a bit off.

They’d been here for 14.5 years.

I think a large part of that wonkiness has to do with the way time seems to go slower at the beginning of an experience than at the end. I see this all the time. The first half of a vacation can feel like you’ve got all the time in the world. The second half feels like you blinked and it disappeared. Or just look at a week. Monday and Tuesday? They take a long time. Friday? Typically much faster.

Don’t even get me started on how hard it is for me to figure out how long ago something’s happened now that the pandemic shutdown is in the mix of that time frame. That started almost four years ago already, which is really hard for me to believe.

Am I leading this discussion somewhere important today? Not really. It’s more just an observation, coupled with finding it interesting that I pay so much attention to time, and yet in the end it can seem to matter so little. I’m very big on being punctual. I like to get places as quickly as possible. I think my theory is that if I pay attention to the small things where time is concerned, then the large things will sort themselves out.

Sometimes, however, I wonder if I wouldn’t be better served just not stressing quite so much about it. (Though I’m not sure it’s in me to be able to do that.) I remember on my mission talking with people from Sierra Leone, and being really frustrated with how rarely they actually showed up on time for appointments. “What would you do if you told a friend you’d meet him for a movie at noon, and he didn’t show up until three hours later?” I asked.

They’d shrug. “I’d assume something came up and my friend had to take care of it.”

“And if you were already gone by the time they actually showed?” I asked.

“Then they’d figure out the same thing.”

At the time, that just caused my brain to short circuit. It didn’t make any sense to me at all. Looking back on it, however . . . I’m not nearly as sure of myself. I like to break time down into seconds and minutes and hours, but every now and then, I remember that all of that is generally just a construct.

I’m not trying to say time should just be tossed out the window. Then again, I’m not trying to say it shouldn’t be. Just that . . . perhaps my insistence on thinking I can somehow stay on top of it all the time might be doing me more harm than good. Something I’m definitely thinking about (in my spare time).

I came across this video while nosing around on the internet about the concept, and it resonated with me. Maybe it will for you, too.

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