TO ENJOY THE PASSING OF TIME
How I learned to be less freaked out about how quickly time passes
Forty-one minutes, give or take. That’s about how long it takes public transportation to get from the bust stop that sits right in front of my house to the west edge of the University of Oregon.
For the whole first year that I lived in Eugene, I was only ever about twenty minutes by bike from the downtown area and university district. That year came and went, and biking, unfortunately, is no longer an option for getting around after I moved to an apartment on the edge of town. Last week, I decided it was about time to get acquainted with Eugene’s public transport system.
I live at the end of the 73 line, so I get the first pick of seats on the bus. Like most days, I end up claiming the first seat past the middle door, the first one that’s slightly elevated from the front end of the bus.
Podcasts are a perfect traveling companion.
I flip through and decide to catch up on Pete Holmes’ show. His show is a long one, so I typically only listen when I’m already familiar with his guest. Recently he had Jimmy Kimmel on, who I thought would be interesting to hear interviewed as a change. I pushed play and allowed my attention to go in and out, watching the bus gradually fill up with people outlined by the morning light.
Per usual, Pete Holmes ended his interview talking about religion and the meaning of life. I find myself surprised by his guests’ responses quite a bit. Kimmel, a lifelong Catholic, simply responded with some James Taylor lyrics.
The secret to life is to enjoy the passing of time.
The passing of time. That fragment of sentence stuck with me. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it the meaning of life, but something in me lit up when I heard the late night host talk about how important it was to enjoy its passing.
The first time that I felt really old was just after I graduated from college. I wasn’t old, but I was definitely feeling it. I stuck around my college town for a few months after graduation. I would see undergraduates make their way in between house parties and the campus, and I started to realize that I was no longer at that stage in life. Suddenly, they seemed so young.
On paper, it didn’t make much sense. I wasn’t that much older. Plus I wasn’t even old, by almost anybody’s standard. But I thought about how it seemed not long ago at all that I first arrived on campus, new to everything around me. Suddenly, I was on my way out.
I went to a funeral that summer and it occurred to me that I hadn’t gone to one in about a decade. Then I realized that as I got older, I probably wouldn’t have that luxury again. Other people would be getting older too.
The more college students I saw, the more I realized, they couldn’t really relate to that stark awareness. Only a year before, I wouldn’t have been able to either.
Over the next few years, I would get more and more used to these tokens of growing older, although they would still catch me by surprise sometimes. I’d hear my parents, as well as Kobe Bryant, talk about retirement.
The secret to life is to enjoy the passing of time. This isn’t something I’m naturally good at. If anything, I’m naturally inclined to dislike the way time goes by. To me, there’s never enough of it, it always seems to slip by, and with every page turned on the calendar, it’s a bit of a mystery of how the month seemed to end just as soon as it started.
Good things, like warm summers, my college years, or a good vacation never seem to last long enough. Time moves way too fast. Deadlines come up way too quickly. Then we take a big picture view and we realize how quickly the past year has passed. The past ten years. We get older quicker than we’d expect, accomplish less than we’d expect, and have less time ahead of us than we wish we did.
To me, the frantic pace at which time seems to move has always been a source of anxiety that I don’t speak of often. Mitch Albom’s novel The Time Keeper featured the character of Father Time serving out a prison sentence for putting measurements to the precious gift of life. It looks like I’m not in the minority when it comes to being frequently frustrated by how quickly dates come and go. I realize that much of getting older consists of seeing things that have been around forever fade away. Print journalism. Our favorite shows. Loved ones.
They suggest you fight the mad rush of time. Keep learning, keep newness in your life. I’ve read countless articles speculating about why time only seems to move exponentially faster as we get older. A popular theory is that less is new to us, and there’s something about newness that seems to slow things down. First week on the job, first month in a new city. I can attest to this… times when I’ve been thrust into new surroundings have seemed to expand beyond the confines of a single date on the calendar.
They say to slow time down, you should keep your life full of unfamiliar things. Pursue learning new things, look to have fun and to play more, keep meeting new people. I suppose it works for some. We obsess over life hacks and anything that seems to promise the power to save time.
The funny thing is, this will always be a false promise.
“The main problem with this great obsession for saving time is very simple: you can’t save time. You can only spend it. But you can spend it wisely or foolishly.”
–Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
The commute is great. It takes me twice as long as it would take me to drive to the area, but it gives me a good chance to unwind and sit still for a bit. There’s always something I’ve found soothing about public transportation that works well, especially with a podcast or a book, or at least some good music.
What I love about needing a bus ride to take me to and from my house is that it serves as a bit of a portal. I get to fully get into work mode on my way to work, and to fully decompress at the end of the day. It gives me a mini sanctuary of stillness.
Eventually, I’ll get around to making a playlist for this occasion. In the meantime, Spotify shuffle mode will have to do. Song. Slow Cruel Hands of Time. Artist. Band of Horses. Perfect. Wait… Slow hands of time? I get cruel, but slow?
Something occurs to me about the passing of time. We need it. Literally. Just about any sort of human sense requires time to work.
There’s music, for example. On it’s own, a note is just a note. And the note that follows it is also just a note. It’s the movement from one, to the other, to all the ones that follow that results in that magic known as music, and music is so powerful its beauty escapes explanation. Even scientifically, sound is made up of waves, movements within a certain range.
And a sentence on its own is just a sentence. It’s the flow from one to another that leads to a novel.
A scene is just a scene, and so on.
Motion is a necessity. And perhaps life isn’t even beautiful just for its moments, but for the movement from one moment to the other. The connections between events that we can make that fill it up with meaning.
I ride this bus from one end of the route to the other, all the way. I don’t really need to keep track of the bus stops, but I do anyways as it moves from Willamette to Hillyard.
For a long time, I’ve associated the passing of time with negative things. Death. Goodbyes. Endings. Things that are impending. I wonder if I can make some room for some more positive things that are associated with the movement of time.
Here’s one– growth. Growth takes time. And in almost all senses of the word, it’s what we aim for.
Physical growth takes time. Personal growth takes time. Progress as a society takes time. Putting together anything beautiful takes a lot of time, and there’s occasionally a bit of correlation between how much time has passed and how much we’ll marvel at the finished project. Well aged whiskey. A giant sequoia. A really, really old person. Seriously.
Oh, and the movie Boyhood.
I read a review for that movie, and the reviewer found its ending to be melancholic, which is funny, because I thought that scene was the most beautiful part of the movie. At the end, you get this quick moment to think back to all that happened to the main character, a kid who literally grew up in front of us, and remember his highs and lows and celebrate the fullness that is life. Looking back and see what a long way we’ve come.
It’s easy to lament getting older. Loved ones aging and passing away. Empty nests and rooms with bare walls where we used to live. But then, there’s also all kinds of good in the future. I get to think of my nephews, one of whom I can remember waiting for to be born. I can see them pass through all sorts of milestones in life, starting kindergarten this year, forming fuller sentences. Some of my long time friends are starting to have kids of their own, and it’s reasonable that I could in the not too far future. All with the passing of time.
I’m getting better at it.
After sharing my anxiety over time with a friend, he asked me what it might look like to enjoy the passing of time. What would that actually mean?
For reasons I couldn’t quite explain, the first thing that came to mind was the scene of a Sunday afternoon and spending it at home with a family. It’s a set period of time, from the early afternoon until the evening, and yet, it’s free to be passed in whatever way we’d please. We could even use the expressions, hours to pass, killing time, and yet, we wouldn’t be approaching that afternoon with our hearts set on just getting it over with. Passing the time is the main course. We could be playing board games or reading or putting on Netflix, or something like that.
So, what’s the closest thing in your life to that right now? I got asked.
I remembered the bus ride home. By the time I get home, I am completely free. All my work for the day is done, and I get to enjoy being with Deanna for the entire remainder of the day. I stop keeping track of time at this point, it’s free to do what it wants to do, and I’ll go to bed when I’m tired. Usually that’s pretty early.
But when I get off the bus, I have all kinds of things to look forward to. With no obligations at this point, the only reason I have for doing things is simply because I want to.
Most of the time, I’ll get to the kitchen and start cooking for fun. Or I might Netflix. Or draw in one of my sketchbooks. Or just talk with Deanna for hours.
As time passes, and you get older, you realize that you have less of it left to look forward to. And then you realize, life is less about looking forward, and more about looking around.