“Time is on my side, yes it is.”
— Rolling Stones, 1965
Actually, no it isn’t. Far from it, and anyone who took that advice 56 years ago and lived by it knows what I’m talking about.
Time is not your friend. It’s not your enemy either. Actually, we don’t even know what time is.
We try to explain it, and we usually fail. So we turn to metaphors to describe it.
“Time’s a trap,” said author Margaret Atwood in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“Time is a storm in which we are all lost,” complained William Carlos Williams.
“Time is a gift.”
“Time is an irreversible arrow.”
We race again time. We waste time. Time is at hand. We reach back through time. At the same time, time stands still. We are in time, we are on time, things are timely. Time flies. Time drags on. Don’t squander your time.
Perhaps Hector Berlioz said it best: “Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills you.”
We don’t understand time at all.
I’ve been thinking a lot about time recently, something that happens when you turn 70. I imagine when he looks in the mirror at age 78 Mick Jagger also thinks about time and realizes that it isn’t always on his side.
In addition to aging, a couple of things got me thinking about time.
One is COVID-19 and its associates. The last couple of years have bent and distorted and tangled time in a way that I never imagined possible. My 3-year-old great-granddaughter seems to have been 3 since she was born. People are always saying, “Wait, has it only been two years since such and such? It feels like forever.”
Whoa, forever? Save that for another time.
Another reason for my recent interest in time is the cases of Kodak Carousel slides (Readers under 40, as if I have any: Google it) that I recently rescued from near obscurity.
These slide trays hold hundreds of photographs from the middle period of my life. I threatened for years to throw them in the trash. I just didn’t want to go there, back in time. The idea was overwhelming. What was the point? Time had passed, water under the bridge.
Still, I dragged them around, move after move. Recently, I borrowed a slide projector, summoned my courage, and brought the boxes home. As I watched them in a darkened room, time bent, then turned back on itself.
And my discomfort with looking back eased.
Here we are at the lake on an August day, a big blended family, and everyone looks to be having a wonderful time. Where is the discord that too often became the family narrative?
Though mom developed Alzheimer’s in her early 50s and died of it 15 years later, it doesn’t get to define her life. Here she is in a photograph before her illness, full of life and laughter. That’s where I’d like to freeze time.
My wonderful sister-in-law, perhaps the most grounded person I know, nevertheless has a bent for the unconventional. Recently she told me about a book by Lisa Broderick, “All the Time in the World.”
The book delves into the mysteries of quantum physics, but basically supports a view that time is malleable. “There is a physical reality,” Broderick says, “and there’s a perception reality that allows us to have a lot more control over time than we think.”
Control as in stopping the second hand of a physical clock, or reversing time. Not so much “Time is on my side,” but more like time doesn’t get to control me.
I can live with that.
Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.