A joke du jour of late night comedy depends on the sensation that the 12 months since Donald Trump was elected president seem a lot more like 12 years. Or more. The nearly daily outrages, scandals, dustups and Twitter battles the President has left in his wake defy the very concept of time. There’s just no way someone could pack that much “stuff” into a single year.
Time is tricky business. And as the holiday season hits hyper speed, many of us will feel abused by it. There’s not enough of it to get everything done. Memories of holidays past may warm us. Or haunt us. For those of us with kids, you can almost see time slip into the past.
A favorite line of mine to my kids whenever they tell me they’ve outgrown a fad, or a pair of sneakers is “I thought I told you to stop growing.” They think it’s funny. They don’t realize I’m really asking for time to stop.
Politics might make time stand still. In the rest of life, however, it’s gone before you can get hold of it. You’ll never catch it.
And while adults marvel at the cruel speed of time, children experience it in slow motion. The slow, daily movements of the Advent Calendar are like hashes on a prison wall to keep track of weeks spent in captivity. When will school finally get out? When do we get the presents? Why does it take so long?
The phenomenon of time moving faster and faster in terms of human perception was first organized into a theory by French philosopher Paul Janet. Janet’s theory was that you experience time relative to age. Writing about Janet’s theory, Washington Post reporter Ana Swanson put it well:
“When you’re one year old, a year is literally forever to you – it’s all the time that you’ve ever known. But as you grow older, one year is a smaller and smaller fraction of your total life. It’s like watching something shrink in your rear-view mirror.”
Swanson reported on the work of a designer Maximilian Keiner, who created a visualization of time as experienced by human beings by age in ever shrinking blocks. What the illustration showed is that, in terms of perception, human beings experience half their lives by the time they are 7.
This can be a depressing thought – the kind on which to ruminate over a whiskey and some Philip Larkin poetry. From “Audobade”: “Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. / In time the curtain-edges will grow light. / Till then I see what’s really always there: / Unresting death, a whole day nearer now”.
There’s plenty of self-help out there for those of us wishing that time would slow down. None of it useful, though. The modern Internet, which right now may be about 75 percent top 10 lists to fix anything that ails us, suggests with the usual tedium: Organize your time with to-do lists, exercise more, or the always infuriatingly vague “keep it simple.” None of those things has every worked for me as far as time is concerned.
The best advice, however might just be, again, from Philip Larkin’s “The Mower,” in which the poet, noting the shortness of time and the randomness of life in general, recognized the only thing we could all do to make it better: “Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.”