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On Time

by Tara

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight.

Elizabeth Akers Allen

As I grow older, I have become increasingly troubled by the rate at which time seems to pass. My late mathematician grandfather used to say that this shift in velocity could be accounted for easily: just use fractions. At age eight, a year feels massively long because it is but an eighth of one’s life. At age eighty, a single year is a minuscule eightieth of one’s life.


As a teenager, I used to marvel at my grandmother's assertion that she felt like she was eighteen, and would be shocked to see her aging self in mirrors. Though I tried, I couldn't really comprehend what she was talking about—I'd always felt thoroughly grounded in my age.

Grandma Jeanne Looking at Her Photo Book Grandma Jeanne in Havana, Cuba

These days, I am beginning to understand. For me, the vertiginous leap into time-traveling hyper-speed happened in my mid-twenties. I feel like I’m 24—yet when I think rationally about how I'm nearly 32, my mind boggles. I feel like Tyler and I just met. And yet, that was nearly a decade ago.

Eating Dinner

At my grandfather’s funeral, I saw my cousin Carrie's two kids. The last time I'd been around them was not very long ago, I swear. I babysat for them on a regular basis between semesters while I was in college. Kathryn was adorable in her teeny princess dresses, and Charles was, if I remember correctly, barely a toddler. My jaw dropped when I saw that Kathryn was a teenager, and Charles wasn't far behind.

Kathryn & Charles

All of the adults chuckled knowingly at my apparent shock, and when Kathryn and Charles left to chat with other family members, I wrung my hands and exclaimed to my older cousins, "It was all I could to not be that person and scream I USED TO CHANGE YOUR DIAPERS!! I KNEW YOU WHEN YOU WERE THIIIIS BIG!"

While I don't generally like this speeding time business, it isn't all bad. I strongly resonate with my friend Julia, who once told me something like “I feel like I’m in my twenties. And then I hang out with actual twenty year olds, and think NOPE! Never mind. I definitely feel like a 30-something, and I am A-OK with that!"

Times May Change

And perhaps there is a way for the speed of time to relax a bit, too. Tyler and I just listened to a a fabulous episode of the podcast Infinite Monkey Cage (at the recommendation of our friend, Mike—thanks!!) in which I found a shred of hope to soothe and slow the dizzyingly fast pace of time. In the episode "Doors of Perception," Claudia Hammond suggests that the fraction idea of age and speed of life is pretty much bunk. If it were all about proportions, when you were say… 80 years old, a single day would pass almost instantly, it being only 1/30,000th of your life.

Athens Flea Market Clock

Instead, she says, the apparent speed of time is governed by how many new memories we make. As children, we're constantly in the present moment, making new memories all the time. As we age and settle down, easily falling into routine, we do fewer and fewer things for the first time. Thus, when we look back at our lives, we notice fewer and fewer milestone memories, and thus it feels as though not very much time has passed.

I know this is just a theory, but it's one I appreciate, since it leaves me with a modicum of agency about my own future. It helps me remember to keep learning, and keep having new adventures. Here’s to making new memories and slowing, just a bit, the march of time.