Of all the weekday hours, my best time is spent here on my front porch, one-hundred and thirty-five Tuesday nights in a row. I relish the escape, as though the world disappears and time stands still. Though even I appreciate the sentiment, the inductive reasoning falls flat. You can’t literally spend time, and you literally can’t stop it. The thought that seizes me most distinctively tonight is the verbal irony in every tenacious “timeline” of my life when time itself has never been linear.
If I’ve lost you already, chalk it up to our recent adventures into literary devices. Metaphors for time are so seamlessly interwoven into colloquial exchanges that my sophomores often find themselves unable to explain the metaphors that they could easily identify. If I gave my students a freewrite topic of “Time”, the readings afterward would naturally include shared, common variants of the following.
Time passes so slowly. Time stops for no man. There’s never enough time. I don’t have time for that. Time goes on and on. The past, the present, the future. It’s time for a change. The time is 2:39. Time ticks away with the second hand.
We, in our collective unconsciousness, treat time as an abstract symbol we’re grasping to force into a concrete structure that’s tangible, understandable. I remember studying note cards back in college on Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and through a decade plus of degradation, I can still see scrawled blue ink saying that time and space were four dimensional structures with no theoretical distinction between past, present, future, or even a now.
Yet, I have made time a commodity in which I trade. I consider decisions, investments, and potential commitments and mentally load the existing spreadsheet reflecting the current primary time allocations. If there are open cells, copying and pasting a new entry is pretty straight forward. That’s why I love Excel.
However, if it’s like planning picture days this week and seeing all the cells fill up for first block classes with several teachers not yet scheduled? We rearrange, accommodate, modify… we play with time like children with playdough, hoping our efforts to affect time will somehow bend it to our will, that in planning and micromanaging moments, time will flow easily, a refreshing river archetype leading us to better days.
Personally, my idea of a linear timeline for my life has permeated into every action and decision while, simultaneously, I was unaware that my acting and deciding would lead to future outcomes which could then explain previous events. From my first modeling gig at age four, I saw the value in time. I didn’t see the paychecks; I saw the excitement and adventure. I’d made a contract with the norm – that time was precious, and I needed to make the most of my time on earth.
When Charming and I first met, he inspired me to make my list of Thirty Things to Do in My Thirties, essentially a bucket list for an eight year window. I’m two years in, and I’ve accomplished twelve, the most recent hitting my ideal weight for the first time in over nine years, down forty-five pounds from my worst scale encounter. Charming was an integral part in checking off half of them. Next summer, when I marry the man of my dreams(#1), honeymoon on a foreign beach (#3), and maybe even buy a home (#18).
And marrying him opens up the door for so many future opportunities. I live here, in Hampton, and I teach English. This is my now. Perhaps this time, this second that I write the word “time”, is the only time that actually exists as quantifiable. The span of my life isn’t a timeline at all. It’s the theoretical intersection of thousands of significant moments that exist only in my memory, juxtaposed against those future, desired moments that don’t exist at all. They might occur, in time.
There hasn’t been enough time lately. The spreadsheet’s pre-set table is full and I’m putting in overtime. More metaphors to suggest I can measure life’s responsibilities. For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been playing with playdough, rearranging time… accommodating it and modifying it, and ultimately noting that my efforts to affect time offer no consistent, formulaic outcomes. Sometimes, despite our best attempts to organize moments, an inconspicuous fall breeze shifts them all out of order. Each timeline I make, like a child’s playdough giraffe, rarely resembles my imagined final product.
For me last week, it was simple things like computer hardware failure, unplanned meetings, health insurance issues, traffic delays, and car problems, all compounded with getting ready to pull off Picture Days this week. Except for Tuesday, I worked each night an extra five hours, almost believing I’d soon be working ahead instead of playing catch up.
By the time I got to Alexandria for a weekend with Charming, I was pretty miserable to be around, I’ll admit. This time metaphor ruled my disposition all weekend. I was behind. There wasn’t enough time. How could I enjoy any of the “now time” with Charming if my mental efforts were directed toward an antagonist that I can’t ever beat anyway because it’s a conceptual, four dimensional scientific abstraction?
On Saturday, we devoted our afternoon to making our Save the Date cards and setting up our wedding website. You’d think we’d be smiling and cuddling as we dreamed together… but I wasn’t really there. I thought I’d resolved my computer issues earlier in the week, but my laptop gave up the ghost just when we logged into Shutterfly. Instead of enjoying the afternoon, I was frustrated by the fact we were using Charming’s computer and I didn’t have instant access to everything we needed. It would take more… time.
Time… time that I haven’t had enough of because of the simple math involved in reducing our yearbook classes from two to one, such that meeting every other day has me serving up the one hundred and thirty-five class hours that I lost at rapid speed. Charming and I made our website and ordered our cards, but it wasn’t any fun. And it wasn’t until the next morning when I was screaming at my uncooperative laptop that I figured out what was really eating at me. I was angry that I didn’t have time to fix it, but I had to fix it nevertheless. I was angry that I’d been set up for failure. Every interruption in the past month that has pushed me closer to the edge was strong-armed by one force: anger.
Because for every little issue that arose which normally would have been easy to plug into free cells of an Excel spreadsheet, I was having to compromise the rest of my hours. Maybe I was even angry at time. I got it out writing an email that I didn’t send. Mom prayed with me. I woke up Monday morning bright and chipper, handled every picture day snafu with grace and a smile. The anger was gone.
I accepted reality. Time is not linear. I cannot stop it or create more of it. I can just live, and I want to be in the now, every now. When I’m with Charming planning our lives together, I want to be united in heart and oneness of mind. Time is precious, I learned as a little girl, and I determined to make the most of my time on earth. My thirties bucket list embodies what I see as significant goals, and marrying Charming opens the door for future opportunities to access more accomplishments on that list. Then, we’ll dream of and live in our forties and fifties and sixties.
We didn’t take any pictures this weekend, but we designed our save the date card. Our wedding website tells us we met that checklist requirement two months early. I emailed the design to my mother, who replied, “It’s fresh, candid, and representative of the facets and moments of your relationship and pure delight.” It struck me then that I hadn’t noticed that myself.
In the top-right, I’m kissing Charming at Angel’s wedding one week before he told me he loved me for the first time. We’re playing Pokémon last fall in the silly picture on the bottom. Before I went to Italy, we shared a sunset in Norfolk where we’d spend the rest of our summer together. Of course, there’s Charming’s Prince-posal. Though that still feels like it’s happening now, a photo from our first engagement party only serves to evidence how quickly the present becomes the past.
We’re sharing our memories that exist only in brain tissue. We’re sharing what we did with the time we were given together. We’re saving the date for all the future hopes and dreams. Beside me, the first evening glory of the year has bloomed, two months later than usual. I had begun to give up hope that they’d yield blossoms this year.
An evening glory in October reminds me that time is cyclical, not linear, and I cannot measure my life in a failure to achieve on a timeline. It’s not just better late than never. It’s simply better when we accept we can’t control time, that our timelines are like playdough giraffes, and that the accumulation of moments of significance itself is precious. If time is precious, it’s only because it’s the abstract concept through which we realize our dreams.