Matters of Time

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When I was 6, I realized what death was for the first time. Nobody died, I just suddenly understood that someday I would not be with my parents ever again. They would die one day and be gone forever. Just as I would one day. As a child I thought death was the most terrifying thing because of the separation from who I loved. But I quickly realized that dead people aren’t anything, and they are certainly not sad or scared. It was only my worries now that scared me.

As I grew older, I began to wonder why time exists. The trouble with time is not Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, or sadistic SAT math questions. I like to think about relativity and imagine that I understand quantum physics, but at the end of the day, I can put all that aside and nothing about the academic left brain trouble me. What would wake me from sleep was the emotional force of the meaning. Feelings are as intangible as time. It was the effect of time on the people I love that followed me past consciousness. Even in sleep, I couldn’t escape the undeniable truth that there will come a day when I am no longer able to be with those I love.

So why is time necessary? Why is the universe set up this way? Why are our lives so inseparable from our deaths? As far as my heart could see, it was only to terrify us in the present, should we allow our thoughts to wander to that dark cobwebbed attic, with the grim and unalterable knowledge that we will one day, in the not so distant future, be forever torn apart from those people who make our lives worth living. Sure, one might argue that it’s to motivate us to live in the present, or to act with honor or kindness, as we should. Some take the opposite view. But at the end, there is an end. No one can take their first steps without taking their last.

I was feeling rather discouraged and disappointed with the universe until I read something Thich Nhat Hanh said. To paraphrase, he said that if things were not impermanent, then life would be impossible. A seed could never grow into a plant. A baby could never grow up into an adult. There could be no healing, no transformation of any kind. We would never realize our dreams.

“Because of impermanence,
everything is possible.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

That is interesting. Without time, we could not live or experience anything at all, let alone each other, or the incomprehensible depths of emotions of which we are capable. It seems to answer the old question; Is it better to have loved and lost, or never to have loved at all? In life, love and loss are as inseparable as night and day. Light and love are what give our lives meaning.

Now I am far from that 6 year old I was once. I am a parent. Motherhood improved me in many ways, with patience, organization, efficiency and prioritization. I feel I can cut through the noise to the heart of the problem more quickly. I am able to focus even in chaotic environments. I notice I am more compassionate and more patient with others. I can imagine them as children, or as parents with little ones at home. Instead of feeling annoyed at other people for every stupid thing, real or imagined, I see them as fellow human beings with complex lives. Little things don’t bother me so much because they don’t matter so much in the big picture. It also showed me how fast time goes by, and how precious our lives are. That led me to get started on things I always wanted to do but never did, because of the “I don’t have time” excuse. Because of what I learned being a parent, “I’ll do it later” became “I’ll start now”.

All we have is the present and our memories. Experiences, learning and love are all impossible without the existence of time, birth and death. Sharing experiences, aka our lives, with those we love is what gives our lives meaning. Maybe it’s all about using our time wisely, on what really matters. Children know this instinctively. It’s we who have forgotten.