We all know the old joke: What is it about time? It flies. Every day we experience this difference in perspective between the reality of time’s speed, and our own personal perception of it. There are many theories about this, but theory seems unimportant when you are caught within the befuddlement. We have all often had the experience of looking back and disbelieving how quickly time has flown by. How can my son be thirty years old when just yesterday I was walking him to pre-school? That sort of thing. This is a universal experience, I think.
But for me, the past months have led to an opposite experience. Time hasn’t flown by. It has stood still. Everything I have felt, I believed I would feel for the rest of my life. Every stage I have passed through made me feel as if this stage was the one I would be stuck in forever. Until the end of my days, I would need help getting in and out of the shower. I would forever need an external device to help my body eliminate whatever small bits of nutrition I was able to ingest. My days of walking on the beach were over. I would never feel like having a glass of wine again. All these stages felt like end stages. But now, one month post-operation, and two months past the cancer diagnosis, all those stages are behind me. Although I still rely on one external appliance to keep my digestive tract working, I have definitely rediscovered my taste for wine.
To me, that period of time felt like a separate and distinct unit. Imagine a box full of swirling thoughts and static experiences, with me sitting silently in the middle of it. Then imagine a giant hand, or a huge gust of wind, Wizard-of-Oz-like, lifting that box and hurling it into the blackness of the cosmos. Now imagine finding a new box, full of different thoughts and different experiences, and me back in the middle. That new box, like the old one, feels as if it will be my home forever. But I’m beginning to see that another gust of wind will blow this one away and then, plop, I’ll be in a new box again. That sense of the arrow of time moving inexhaustibly forward, is gone for now. Instead, there are these distinct moments, unconnected, and each lasting forever until they are replaced by new ones.
I can hear the collective chorus shouting Sue, get out of your head! And I admit to being a bit over-analytical right now. But still, I find it all fascinating, and not because it feels like this is a phenomenon unique to my own experience. It’s fascinating to me because I believe we all experience this at different moments in our lives. We all know what’s it’s like to have time stand still. That’s an old cliché, to be sure. But this feeling of life being made of a series of endpoints, of final sustaining moments, is different. That sense that this is what the rest of my life will feel like is also a common experience, but one less discussed. It takes the idea of living in the now to it most ludicrous end result. Every now feels like forever. Time no longer means much of anything.
But recently I have been looking back in that old familiar way and remembering that perception of time flying. Perhaps perspective is returning, and that is another excellent sign of healing. Today might still feel like a static black box, but eight weeks into this chapter and I am beginning to be able to string those boxes together. I am now beginning to see them as part of a continuum, and if I can see that about the past, then I can imagine it about the future.