Some quantum physicists argue that time is an illusion. While I don’t quite know enough about quantum physics to agree or disagree (almost enough, but not quite), my own experience tells me that there are different kinds of time.
First of all, there is a difference between Clock Time and experienced time (also known as “Real Time”). Clock time is steady and useful when you need to bake something. Real time is more elastic – just picture a kid in school watching the minute hand (remember them?) creep toward 12 when the bell will free him. Real time slows.
When I was teaching, I lived in circular time. Every year I’d meet my new students in September, we’d go through our chronologically organized Humanities curriculum, from The Odyssey to T. S. Eliot, and they’d leave in June. Then in September we would repeat the cycle, with new faces. I was always the same, circling, unchanged, back to September-time. I wrote about it years ago in a not very good poem:
September again. Time’s wheel
Groans enthusiasm into place
And me into place at the head
Of the classroom’s returning space.
Same script every year, new actors
Lined in desks now, waiting, unsure
Of the earth’s collective spinning
About to continue. You’re
Each to blink at Plato
In October, and then to ride
Raskolnikov’s axe in April:
Feelings come and go like tide.
The recurrent ache of winter
Will be reborn in you late in May,
And I share with you, my class,
A turn of the year today.
And yet these chains will make me
Free from time, for the play
Never ages; the students are always
The same age, and I stay.
Like Keats’ unravished bride
Expecting, but never learning,
Young but not quite anything
You hold me by your turning
Out of the fall, the sag,
The downward drift of time,
By the force of rhythms, the pattern
Of human seasons. I’m
Discovering my own children
In your faces gathered here:
My sons will soon wheel in cycles
Unaware that their pattern is clear.
You, poised at your desks on the edge
Of summer, all ready to know,
You see time as progressing, unfolding
From beginning to end as you grow.
And of course you are right, and you’re wrong
For the dancer is less than the dance.
You are still, and advancing, and turning,
And I pause for a moment, entranced.
Time did not always happen that way. When I was growing up, I lived in linear time. One thing led to the next different thing. I progressed through school. I got older. My life kept changing. I could look back at the past and forward to the future when I would be grown up. After a couple of years of teaching, however, I entered circular time – though my sons’ growing up ran a parallel in linear time.
And now, having been retired for more than a few years, I have re-entered linear time. But it does not have the regular tick-tock of clock-time, its regularity an illusion. There’s an old and not very good poem called “The River of Life” by Thomas Campbell that describes how our dawdles along when we are kids but speeds up as it approaches The Falls.
Time certainly slowed up during the campaign, but it is now speeding up as we approach The Falls. Maybe that’s why I put a paddleboard on my Christmas list – as long as I’m on The River of Life, I might as well enjoy it.
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