Permit me for a moment to take you back to the 1994 film I.Q. starring Walter Matthau, Meg Ryan, and Tim Robbins. If you didn’t see it, it was a silly rom-com where Robbins’ character falls madly in love with Albert Einstein’s niece (Ryan), Einstein of course played by Matthau. At any rate, there’s a scene in the film where Einstein is standing around with some brilliant minds of his day and in walks a regular guy – Tim Robbins’ character – so Einstein and Company decide to ask him if he believes that time exists. You know, just to humor them. Rather than answering the question directly, though, Robbins responds with a story from a science magazine:
He tells of two twin brothers. One journeys in a spaceship that can travel light years away exploring other worlds. The other stays on Earth living out his life. When the first returns home from space, he’s still young while his brother is an elderly man now. Robbins asks the scientists which of the twins is happier, and the answer – of course – is the older one, because he has lived a full life with experiences and a family and love and pain. But for the younger man, the time just passed on, decades gone missing. Though Robbins and the scientists don’t quite say so, the implication is that time doesn’t exist without the experience of it. You can see the whole clip here:
Needless to say, I’ve had time on my mind lately. So much of time is something we fabricate with our schedules and our calendars or lack thereof. But even if you do away with that stuff, and assume it to be a human construct, there’s still something “timely” about the rhythm to life. The sun goes down, and the moon comes up, and the pattern repeats. We age. We die. We’re trapped in that rhythm and can’t ultimately escape it. And yet, a prisoner may have a very different concept of time than, say, a businessman. That is, some of us have too much of it; others don’t have enough. And it’s precisely in those differing experiences of time that its existence gets, at least, a little muddled.
Still, despite how muddled it all might be, for so many of us, it seems, our time has almost been scripted. We go to school, we graduate, we get a job, we get married, we have children, we watch them do the same thing, we retire, we die. It’s like a neat little formula, the human construct of time. And when people either aren’t able or choose not to follow that formula (or some similar rendition of it), it can become very difficult to navigate the world outside of the expectations we’ve built for how time should be organized and lived.
The older I get, the more I start to feel that everything that happens to us (or doesn’t happen to us, as may be the case) hinges on it being the right time for it to happen. Who you fall in love with can depend on whether you missed or made an appointment – when and where you were when you crossed paths (or didn’t). Whether you got that dream job hinges on so many different factors falling into the right place at the right time. So much and so little of it is in our control at the same time. I think that’s why it’s so incredibly important, on the one hand, that we be as aware as we can be of where we are and why we’re there, that we live every moment we’re given to the fullest. But… and this is the real catch… for the rest of the time, acknowledging that so many of life’s seemingly “random” events can occur precisely because we weren’t as attentive to time as maybe we should have been, there’s still something celebratory in the fact that what’s going to happen is going to happen, that what will be, will be. And I don’t mean that like the old cliché “everything happens for a reason.” I simply mean that once something happens to us, we can find reason in it if we look for it. And there’s comfort in that, I suppose, that whether in the best of times or the worst, we can choose to appreciate them both for what they are.