The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
Time, Pink Floyd
The trouble is, you think you have time.
Every morning the sun illuminates my office through east-facing windows, filtering through the rather robust creosote bush directly opposite my desk. Depending upon the season, the sun may be angled more from the north or south, but it rises on schedule each morning, casting its light upon the ever so subtly pale blue walls, giving the room a glow that reminds me of Coastal Carolina. Warm and inviting.
Such has occurred more than 19,000 times since I have been on this earth. We measure time by the sun’s rising and setting and it adds up to weeks, months, and years. By any measure, seeing anything close to 20,000 times is a lot. You probably have it kind of figured out by then.
Time, however, is different. It slips through our hands like water, at best staying long enough to yield a small taste. It moves quickly yet can stand still. Ask any child waiting for Christmas and they will swear the clock is running backwards.
In your youth, you swear time is an inexhaustible resource.
As a young adult, you plan your life as if the days are promised.
At middle age, you begin to look back and wonder whether your life has amounted to shit,
even whilst planning the rest of it so you don’t become a burden.
In your seniority, you look back with wonder; asking “where did it all go?”; the once inexhaustible resource now spent, “shorter of breath and one day closer to death”.
The problem with time, said the Buddha, is we think we have more of it. Life is short, for some very short. Having had both my biological parents die of cancer causes me to wonder how short mine will be. Not that I can influence it a whole lot.
One piece of advice almost all seniors will give young people is to care for how you use time. Many wish they’d used theirs differently. I’ve never met anyone who wished they’d spent more time at work and less time with family.
All the world’s religions are full of advice or requirements on how we are to live our lives – spend our time. In fact, there’s a fascinating term: “spend our time”. Time is finite, like money. Some seem to have it in excess, but it exists only in specific quantities. The difference for most of us is, we know how much money we have. We can budget, earning and spending accordingly. Time is different. Unless we have a terminal illness, we don’t know how long it will be until our time account is emptied. And you can’t borrow any more.
What is the end of the matter? What matters most? How we answer that largely depends upon one’s world view and/or religion. I’ll answer with my own thoughts, but since life and faith are a journey that answer may change over, well, time.
I think the answer is both ancient and modern; universal and personal. A prophet to Judah told the people to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” I love the fact that this rendering of Micah 6:8 from the King James Version published 406 years ago makes justice a noun, rather than the adverb “justly”, as do some modern renderings. Justice and mercy flow together. There can be no justice without the other, only mindless adherence to law. (Then, as now, that seems to have been a problem). I also appreciate the metaphor, cliched as it is in some religious circles, of “walking” with God. This is a journey, not a static adherence to a set of beliefs devised by men to explain things written down long ago or to force certain behavioral conduct. Walking is active and it takes, wait for it, time. Finally, the personal pronoun “your” is used; I think with great effect. You go for a walk with a friend, an individual, a lover. You may hold hands, kiss. You may take a detour and make love in the grass, warmed by the sun, yet moist with the admixture of passion and the remaining morning dew. That’s personal and intimate. That is love actuated. It is a journey in which the joy is in the travel, not merely the destination. At the end of the day, love is the best way to spend your time.