From our front porch we can watch our town's firework display. Last night I sat on our sidewalk, still warm from baking in the afternoon sun, and savored the evening air and patriotic music streaming from the open doors of our parked van in the driveway.
Partially through the firework display, my brother commented, "It doesn't seem like a whole year has passed since we were sitting here last Fourth of July."
I agreed. With the exception of the month of February (which has the distinction of feeling like the longest month although it's the shortest), time does seem to be slipping away. This theme recurs in conversations with friends. Do years pass more quickly the more years we live? Strangers comment on it. Are we already halfway through the calendar year?
I didn’t always feel this way, which leads me to believe that you experience time in different ways at different points in life. Fifteen-year-olds salivate at the thought of turning sixteen and the freedom of a driver's liscense. College students mark time according to semester-length blocks. My children grasp time by counting individual days (or portions of days), wanting to know how many "sleeps" until grandma and grandpa visit.
I never hear my five-year-old and her friends ruminate that just yesterday it seemed like they were mere four-year-olds. (Perhaps this is because just yesterday some of them actually were four-year-olds.) Reese's time is the present. Before I glanced toward the calendar while paying bills last week, I wondered aloud, "What day is it?" Reese overheard and offered, "Sunday? Tuesday? May 43rd?" She had no clue. It was refreshing.
At the same time, not having an accurate sense of time can cause you to feel adrift. In the case of my vacation last week, which was loosely scheduled around swimming, eating, and reapplying sunscreen, feeling adrift is pleasant, given that I'll be able to return to a more concrete, tangible rhythm of life again. I wouldn't do well if I was thrown off schedule or shielded from knowing the time indefinitely. When the university where I teach holds its 48-hour dance marathon, dancers are advised to cover their cell phone clocks so they can't count how many more hours they have on their feet. Many dancers report that this unknowing is one of the event's challenges. When I watched a documentary about the chief interrogator during Sadaam Hussein's trial, I learned that one way he exercised power throughout the interrogation simply was not allowing Sadaam to possess a watch.
Knowing and understanding time anchors you. Last night my two-year-old managed to stay awake an extra hour past her bedtime, growing increasingly groggy and volitale as the night continued. She had been waiting for fireworks the entire day, yet ended up getting tucked into bed precisely three minutes before the display began. Had she known that in just three minutes -- a meager 180 seconds -- she would be watching the fireworks, she might have been able to hold out.
So when Reese next questions how many days until her birthday (and continues asking until we reach April 15), I'll aim to give her an accurate number. When she asks, like she did a few weeks ago, "Is today tomorrow?" I'll know she's just making sense of her world in her own way.
One day she'll be the fifteen-year-old waiting for the driver's liscense, and given how fast time is moving, it'll come sooner than I realize.