Monday, August 22, 2011

In a Hundred Years...All New People

Like grass, people die away.

If you were told you had only 10 years left to live, what would you do? How would you spend your time? "Spending" time is like spending currency...precious gold. Today I have forever banished the phrase "killing time" from my vocabulary, and will try to "spend" my time more economically. Unfortunately, we usually don't understand this wise use of time until most of it has dwindled away. 

This question of ten remaining years will become a reality to everyone of us, statistically speaking, when we're in our early 70's. Not so far off for many of us.

Our perception of time compresses as we get older. Remember when you were a kid and your next birthday was eons away? Then in early adulthood, the time was still substantial, only less so. But by the time you're fifty and beyond, birthdays click by so fast you sometimes forget how old you are (wow, am I really 58?)and it doesn't have anything to do with how busy you are; elders who no longer inhabit the working world report the same quickening perception of time. Our movement through time appears to speed up significantly as we age. 

Is this due to chemical changes in the brain? A loss of melatonin that makes the brain perceive time in a compressed fashion? Or is it simply because in a child, few memories are built up yet, so he has oodles of time, years upon years, to create them? And when you're older, you recognize the little time you have left and the dreams of future planning begin to diminish.
Chuck Esker proposed this theory about the trajectory of time: When a person is 50 years old and goes through all the experiences during a year, there are not too many things that happen that are new and unique. (Let's face it; much of adult life is repetitive). In fact a year is only equal to 2% of that persons entire life to that point. All future years become a smaller percentage of the life experience. However when a person is five, almost everything is still new and a year is 20% of that persons life at that point.
So at 50 years of age, a year is equal to 2% of a life, and time flies; but at 5 years of age, the same year is equal to 20% of a life, and time drags.

Time is a construct. A continuum whereby we track the events of our lives. Before time, man tracked activity by the seasons, an organic evolution of events without number, without comparison, without conscious thought. Death then was nothing more than a completion of a cycle; people were not "outraged" by it, or think it shouldn't happen. I imagine it was such an ingrained part of life that there was no separation or angst about it whatsoever. No fighting it off; no praying for things to be different. It just is, as natural and normal as birth itself.

Back to our original question. Here's how George Bernard Shaw summed it up:
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.  I rejoice in life for its own sake.  Life is no brief candle for me.  It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.  Thirty years ago, when a huge enchanting future lay before me, I remember thinking "I'd rather burn out than rust out." (from Mick Jagger, or maybe Neil Young?). Now that I'm on the other side of fifty, rusting out is just fine by me.  Maybe I can slow things down a bit by learning something new each day?
These are the types of questions my friends and I perused at our recent college girl's reunion. What would happen if we just stopped paying any attention to our ages and birthdays? Just let the time go and forget how old we are; what would that feel like? Would it slow things down a little? 
Lindy's answer: "Will we still get presents? We'll still get presents, won't we? When I die, you can cut me in half and count my rings, but we'll still get presents, won't we?"

Hahaha!  Now, seriously girls.


  1. What can I say....I love presents, Monica. And you are absolutely one of the best gifts I've ever received. And you've held up so well through the years, sturdy as a pair of Liz Claiborne khakis. (Landfills will be full of Liz Claiborne khakis in 100 years, mark my words.) An excellent investment on my part, for sure. (You, Monica, not the khakis.)

  2. Thank you, Monica. Such a beautiful blog--we all need to be reminded of the preciousness of our life. I will link this on Facebook.

  3. BKS Iyengar, a renowned yoga teacher in his 80's, said: "I used to fill my time with asanas (postures); now I fill my asanas with time."

  4. The perception of time has always intrigued me. One way I look at it is that when you're 10 years old, ten years is your whole life! When you're 50 years old, ten years is only a fifth of your life...

    It's so true that much of adult life is repetitive. That's why it is probably a good idea to learn something new, or take in unfamiliar experiences, or get to know new friends, as we age.

    I also heard someone say once that asking a 5-year-old to wait five minutes for a piece of candy is like asking an adult to wait until dinnertime for her morning cup of coffee!

    Thanks for the "timely" reminders, Monica!