When I was alive, I believed as you do – that time was at least as real and solid as myself and probably more so. I said 1:00 as though I could see it, and “Monday” as though I could find it on a map.—Peter Beagle, The Last Unicorn
Peter Beagle’s allegory begs us to reimagine our concept of time and space. Time is our God, and we are its flock of submissive followers. We worship at the feet of time, creating golden idols in the form of clocks and watches.
According to Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, time and space are dimensions of the Time-Space Continuum. I picture the two dimensions as members of the same family, envisioning a sibling rivalry between time and his sister space.
Time is bossy and hijacks his sister’s free spirit. “If it weren’t for me, nothing would get done,” he accuses. “You would just sit around eating gummies and staring at a lava lamp if I didn’t tell you what to do and where to be.”
“That is so not true,” Space replies. “When I’m fully myself, I notice the hopscotch patterns of light playing across the kitchen floor or the heron hunting for lunch in the bog. It’s magical. It’s being not doing. You demand we always be in motion. You are so linear. You constantly think either about the past or what will happen in the future. You refuse to sit within the space of the present, which, my dear brother, is the meaning of life.”
“It’s my job to allocate space,” Time sputters. “I provide happy hours, holidays, and weekends for fun and relaxation. But the work week is sacrosanct. Monday through Friday is the time for punctuality and productivity.”
“Do you hear yourself?” Space Sputters. “One hour for happiness! The clock on my cell phone and my apple watch dictate my life! I experience panic attacks if I’m running late for an appointment. My anxiety gets me out of the present. I’m so cranky my sense of space is screwed.”
“There would be anarchy if I wasn’t in charge!” Time retorts.
It feels as though time holds space hostage in this endless tug of war between the two concepts.
My daughter and I share a secret expression.
“Mom,” she’ll say, “I took the time to feel my hands today.”
I envy her those moments. Translated, Tracy gave herself permission to experience the surrounding space, undistracted by obligations and responsibilities. It’s such a relief, like unfastening a bra and throwing it on the floor upon returning home from an obligatory meeting. “Ah,” the sighs escape from deep within my solar plexus.
It’s on those occasions we take the time to “ponder a blade of summer grass,” as recommended by self-professed lounger and poet, Walt Whitman. There are terms for this kind of respite. “Being present.” “Being mindful.” “The art of a wasted day,” when your soul sneaks up to whisper in your ear. Why in the world do we not pursue these moments with more urgency and persistence?
The ability to ponder time is a bit of a luxury and, arguably, a concept people who work two and three jobs to support a family don’t have time to think about. But neither do we have to be Time-Zealots.
People who own their own time, who go to the movies in the middle of the workday or go on a three-month sabbatical, are temporal. They don’t permit time to own their minutes and hours. They have figured out how to set their own pace in order to “feel their hands.”
Legitimate scarcity of time does not negate the necessity of stopping and stepping outside for even 15 minutes to experience your interior spaciousness.
I live with a margin of error in my head about arrival times. I’m either five minutes early or five minutes late for the appointed hour. Precise time frames give me hives. COVID-19 gave us a paradigm shift, challenging our concept of time. We were given a giant pause from our typical frenzied routines.
“I can’t go to Sanford to visit Aunt Mary and her grandchildren? Oh well, maybe some other time. Can’t go to my non-profit office? Oh well, I’ll work at home in my pajamas. We can’t pay $25.00 to see a movie? Oh well, I can rent one at home for $5.99 and stop and start it whenever I like. I can’t leave my house two hours early to stand in a mile long TSA line, be strip searched, and have my water bottle confiscated in order to fly to Chicago? Oh well, I’ll FaceTime with my family and send Easter presents.”
“Oh, well,” became a new friend and refrain.
Sister space relished achieving dominion over brother time during this metaphorical comma.
Continuing with the wisdom of Peter Beagle, “We live in houses bricked up with seconds and minutes, weekends and New Year’s Days, and I never went outside until I died, because there was no other door. Now I know that I could have walked through walls.”
Deciding to barge through time’s wall gives us back our sense of spaciousness. It’s exhilarating and puts us in the driver’s seat of our lives. So, what are you waiting for? Go to your toolbox and get your hammer. Break through a wall allowing for some open space, even if it is only the size of a doggy door.
Whose side would you be on in this debate – Brother Time or Sister Space? How do you perceive time, and do you give yourself enough space to just be?