String Theory, a byproduct of quantum physics that we confess we don’t fully comprehend, holds that this thing we call Time doesn’t really exist — at least not as we generally understand it, as a continuum that moves from past to present to future. If this is true, then we need another word to describe what we feel as we rush to work, watch infants grow into young men, become adults, descend into physical infirmity.
Over the weekend we watched a spectacular troupe of ballroom dancers give a concert at an area college. The vivacious boys and girls were between 18 and 21, and they looked to my ever-older eyes to be impossibly young. We felt ancient, particularly since one of the lads onstage was an unofficial nephew, whom we’ve known since he was six. Seeing him all grown up, with an athletic physique that makes women swoon, inspired me to play that common game of inquiry: Where Have All the Years Gone?
The answer: we don’t know.
At 22 or so, one realizes that life goes fast. By 30, one understands that life goes faster than one previously imagined. When 40 comes, one understands more than he wishes to that life speeds by so quickly one could barely comprehend the velocity. By 50, we reckon, the acceleration of time must be blinding.
There must be a scientific reason for this phenomenon, one that explains the startling contraction in understandable natural terms. Perhaps it’s as simple as this: The more one understands what a beautiful gift and blessing being alive is the more one wishes to cling to it, to bask in it, to feel it. Time does indeed fly when you’re having fun. It also flies when you realize it can’t be stopped or bottled, that it can’t be paused or rewound.
How sad to realize that we must die, that we must eventually leave this beautiful world. And how frightening — how horrible! — to understand that it could be tomorrow, or even today. Yet, if people smarter than us are to be believed, the end is not the end, for we are all alive and dead “simultaneously,” inhabiting 11 dimensions, even if we’re not aware of it.
Which is all to say that this infernal acceleration of time scares us. Even if you take moments to smell the roses and look at the birds, to think and reflect, to laugh and cry, you keep hurtling toward the conclusion, and there’s no antidote to the awful velocity. All we can do is live each day as though it were our last, impractical as that seems. We can appreciate our gifts and be grateful that somehow we had the peculiar fortune of being a human being.