What is time, anyway?

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 14, 2014

Recently, I have been thinking about time. Maybe I am mellowing, or maybe it is time to reflect on what my time means to me in my life.

Having just attended my 50th high school class reunion, it was emotionally sobering to be with my childhood friends again and see how time has treated them both in physical appearance and in health issues. In my mind, they looked older than I, but in reality I am right there with them. Our aging minds are always telling us that we are still youthful and can still do the things that have passed us by. There is a saying that must be true. “Time, the subtle thief of youth.”

Most of our lives are spent understanding “time” only in reference to making deadlines, paying bills, getting to doctor appointments or being sure we don’t miss the start of our favorite TV shows. We don’t understand time and only see it as the unseen energy source that pushes and propels us to stay on schedule in our busy daily lives.

Recently, David Post wrote in his Salisbury Post column about his 65th birthday. He was not paying much attention to birthdays, he said, until this one hit him hard — he really was 65 years old. He was excited to qualify for Medicare at last. I hope he will not be disappointed in his milestone. Someone once said, “Time passes so fast until one day, you realize that you are there.”

Philosophically, “time” is a bit abstract in meaning, but we live with and say the word “time” many times each day. We want to know what time of day is it? What hour is it? We ask if it is time for bed, meaning is it the point in time to retire to bed for sleep and rest. I spent “time” at the baseball game, meaning I spent a spell, an interval, a period (of time) while at the game.

Time can refer to periods in history such as the word “era” or generation like the Greatest Generation or the Generation X. Time can mean a lifespan or a lifetime or existence. If talking about a musician or actor, or photographer, saying he performed well “in his time” means in his best days or years of his career. It was his peak years or glory days or maybe golden years.

Jacques Wilhelmen writes, “Time is change.”

Folk singer/writer Bob Dylan in his song “The Times Are a’ Changing,” uses time to mean the conditions or circumstances or the way of the world. He might also use “time” to mean his rhythm or tempo or the measure of his music.

So you see, the word “time” has many meanings. John Archibald Wheeler writes that “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.”

Singer James Taylor, in “Secret O’ Life,” sings, “Now the thing about time is that time isn’t really real. It’s just your point of view… .” The lyrics say, “The secret o’ life is enjoying the passing of time, Any fool can do it … .”

The music theme about time occurs often in the lyrics of songs. The late Jim Croce writes and sings:

If I could save time in a bottle

The first thing that I’d like to do

Is to save every day ‘til eternity passes away … .

He continues:

But there never seems to be enough time

To do the things you want to do once you find them… .

Singer Pink Floyd sings, “Time ticking away the moments that make up a dull day…. Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time… .”

Charles Caleb Colton writes: “Time is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things; the past is gone, the future is not come, and the present becomes the past even while we attempt to define it, and, like the flash of lightning, at once exists and expires.”

We are in fact, given a new start each day by God. We are allowed to do whatever we please with the time of this day. If I choose to waste the day, I can. If I choose to do something meaningful and constructive, I can. Whatever I choose to do with my day, I will give one day of my life for this day. When this day is over and tomorrow comes, the previous day is gone forever, wasteful or useful.

I hope that most of us want our days to be of service to ourselves and mankind and be used for gain toward a good life. If I choose each day to waste the time in my life for that day and that day’s time is gone forever, I should hope that I don’t look back and regret how much the time on that wasted day was valued.

As Carl Sandburg wrote: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

Wayne Hinshaw is a professional photographer and former Post staff member who lives in Rowan County.