Time is such a strange concept for me these days. The months go by like
weeks and the years seemingly like months. Even things that happened to
me not too long ago really, such as joining my amateur orchestra in
Spring 2012, even that seems to be so distant now — even though it is
There are various ways of looking at time. Perhaps the most fundamental
way, what you might call the baseline, is cosmological time. Astronomers
today tell us that the universe is about 13.82 billion years. Looking
out at the stars through the Hubble telescope is like looking at the
past. The greater the distance, the earlier the period in the evolution
of the universe we are seeing. At the current range of the Big Eyes we
are turning out into the universe, we are seeing galaxies that existed
over 13 billion years ago, which were created close to the Big Bang
But I don't know if this cosmic ruler of time applies to the way I
perceive things these days. Granted the more distant periods in my life
are usually, like the most distant galaxies, often the most dim. And
perhaps for the most part it does rather seem to be akin to that Ultra
Deep Field view of the cosmos. But that is not totally the case. Some
memories are stronger than others it seems. Psychologists say that
memory is linked to emotion, to what we value, simply to what we have
chosen to remember over the course of the years. So I don't think that a
cosmological metaphor quite fits. And for me at least it has become
rather more like what singer Regina Spektor once wrote about — "The
stars came down upon our hats / but they're just old light / they're
just old light."
But what are we to say of the fact that time flows more quickly as
we age? For that I think of the title of Thomas Wolfe's great novel,
Of Time and the River. If the river becomes a metaphor for time,
we are standing on a bridge over a small river. As we look upstream,
we see a piece of driftwood more towards us. As the driftwood disappears
under the bridge below us we run to the opposite side in time to see it
emerge and continue downstream. This perhaps could be a good metaphor
for the changes in the way we perceive time. When we are young the river
flows slowly. We see the driftwood moving toward us, it seems to take
a while before it gets to us. Running to the opposite side we see the
driftwood again as it is carried slowly away from us. It seem to take
a while for it to disappear from view. But when we are older the river
flows faster. The driftwood doesn't seem to take nearly as long to get
to us; and once it flows past it is quickly out of sight.
But while for me this may explain the rate of flow of time, it is not a
complete summary of what I experience.
Certain religions believe in the transmigration of souls — reincarnation.
And certain philosophers have believed in it also, Plato for one. As I
look back into my past I get the sense not just that I am looking back
in time, but looking — getting some sort of strong feeling of —
different lives contained within the life I have lived since my birth
in 1955. And it is not just as simple as saying, rather tritely, that
things change, that we change, "seasons change and we change with
them" as the old song by the Tourists goes. For me it is more complex.
It is what you might call a separateness of my various historical selves.
I may very well have the same interests say in music or writing that I
did when I was younger. But who I am today is not the person who was
interested in those things at age 17 or 37. No, not at all. I am here.
But the person who existed in earlier decades is only myself in the most
remote sense, it does truly seem me in a different life, and I only
minimally feel any connection to that.
If it was the same soul all these years within me — and I do believe
in the existence and continuity of the soul — then it is a soul that
has undergone some significant frequent transformations. Not just
like the universe, constantly evolving; but in the process of becoming
something — someone — new.