Time like an ever-rolling stream
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten as a dream
Dies at the opening day
How I used to revel in the stained-glass melancholy that washed over me whenever we sang this hymn verse in church! And at that age I didn’t even notice that there was no mention of daughters.
Many commentators have noted the strange things that Covid has done to our perception of time. The past fifteen months have gone by achingly slowly yet also sped past. The ever-changing backdrop of most daily lives has dwindled to the four walls of home, but equally the predictable weekly events come round ever more quickly.
I think a lot has to do with how much control you have over time. For a child, a long, dull afternoon is that precisely because they lack the means to do anything about it. Even if an adult (or do I mean a woman?) hasn’t earmarked a wet afternoon as a good time to tackle a task that has needed doing for ages, there’s probably some reading or a film – or perhaps some sleep – to catch up on.
And again, time changes over time. I lived in Australia for six years in the 1970s/80s, and when I came back, time was divided in to Before Oz and After Oz. Eventually we had been back for longer than we had been away, and it then became an interlude. Now it’s so long ago it’s just a blip.
In fact, I can feel my children becoming a blip! To anyone contemplating children but fearing it would disrupt their lives too much, I would say the upheaval is only temporary. I admit that while it’s going on it seems interminable, but once it’s finished child-rearing seems to have flashed by.
Before and after times also loom large whenever an ordeal is in sight. Somehow, if I have a particularly harrowing dental appointment lined up, it will become the only meaningful marker for the future: all other events will fall either into the time before, in which case they will be tainted by the prospect of pain, or into the time after, when they can be savoured free from the shadow of the drill.
Apprehension of time is a very individual thing. According to NLP theory we can be divided roughly into ‘through time’ and ‘in time’ people – though as with any of these distinctions we invariably move from one to the other occasionally. I’m a through-time person who loves planning, always knows what time is it (unlike Dame T I would feel completely adrift without a watch) and what bit of my self-imposed routine I’m meant to be doing. In-time people live more in the moment, go with the flow and are often late. There are benefits from both approaches, but in-timers and through-timers can sometimes find each other pretty annoying.
As a through-timer, I don’t often experience the pleasure of being ‘in flow’, so when it happens it’s delectable. When my first child was a few months old, my sister- and brother-in-law came to stay, and we got a baby sitter and went out for dinner. It was probably my first such outing for at least six months. The company, the conversation , the food, the wine – it was all brilliant, relaxing, mellow… then someone said something that reminded me I had a baby at home. I realised that for the past however many minutes I had been completely in the moment: no burden of the past, no future to plan for, just here and now. Time had stopped rolling.