I’ve always been fascinated by the march of time. Expressions like: “time flies when you’re having fun“, “time goes faster the older you get“, “time waits for no man” and the immortal words of Ferris Bueller: “Life goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” roll off the tongue easily. But since time doesn’t actually speed up and slow down – only our perception of time does – I often find myself wondering why.
When I was a kid the Summer holidays seemed to go on forever. Now the Summer goes by in the blink of an eye and it’s Winter and dark nights before I know it. Likewise a year when I was 12 seemed like a lifetime but now 2 years seems to fly by before I’m used to writing down the current one! I’m already at the stage where if someone asks my age I actually have to sit down and work it out.
My trouble with the increasingly fast passage of time is that I love life, always try to make the most of it and want to make the most of my younger days while I can. So I often ponder why things seem to go so fast now and I think I know the answer.
When you’re 12 everything is new. You’re learning all the time. If you go on holiday it’s a completely new experience. When I’d go camping with my father I’d be looking out of the car window constantly seeing new scenery, looking out for animals, particular cars, looking at every cloud, every hill. I’d be like a sponge absorbing my surroundings. Summer holidays at home would be a constant adventure, every day different. I’d maybe go out on the bikes with friends, go for a walk in the woods or fields near my house, scramble along the rocks on the riverside or a whole host of other things. Since everything was new and different I’d be paying attention all the time and making the most of every moment.
Now that I’m 33 (I had to think about that for a moment) I’ve pretty much encountered every experience I’ll ever encounter – or at least everything I’ve experienced has prepared me for anything I can come up against. If I go into an unfamiliar shop to buy a chocolate bar I’ve done it a million times before, know the routine by heart and can perform the whole transaction without switching my brain on – I’m running on autopilot. When I went into a sweet shop as a kid I was like… eh… a kid in a sweet shop. I’d have no idea what I was going to buy and would be looking longingly at all the selections deciding what to get. I’d have to make sure I had enough money, remember to be polite to the man behind the counter (it always seemed to be a man for some reason) and be ready to deal with anything I wasn’t expecting (maybe a discount on a quarter of strawberry bon bons). Ah, those were the days.
Likewise if I drive into the middle of nowhere camping these days the journey is more of an inconvenience and I’m concentrating on getting to my destination rather than the bit in between (whether I’m driving or not). As a kid my face would be plastered to the window looking at anything and everything (just as well I wasn’t driving really).
I think when you’re a kid you’re learning so much and your attention is in the moment all the time, whereas once you get older you’ve done it all before and so tend to switch your attention off most of the time while your brain runs on cruise control. This is something I’ve been trying my best to avoid since I realised it’s what was happening.
Whenever I take a train to and from Leeds I like to look at the scenery. I’m travelling somewhere and it’s nice to look out the window as I frequently see lots of interesting things. I saw a fox the other day, a heron patiently fishing and I’m fairly sure I’ve even seen the odd deer. But when I look at my fellow passengers most of them are staring into space, their eyes glazed over and their brains switched to the off position. Sure, after a hard day’s work they’re probably tired and looking forward to getting home and (being Yorkshire) having something to eat – but I can’t help but feel sorry for what they’re missing. Every day that you spend with your brain disengaged not noticing the world around you wishing it was 5pm is a day you’ll never get back. Little chunks of time soon add up and before you know it 10 years have passed and you wonder where they went.
When I was a kid my dad used to frequently say “I haven’t seen him in 20 odd years” and I couldn’t perceive such a vast length of time. Now I frequently find myself saying the same thing and thinking how quickly they went. I want in 20 years to reminisce about now but it feel like a long time ago packed with experiences and memories I’ll want to hold onto. Because if I don’t I’ll regret it, want them back, and that just isn’t going to happen. Not so much the march of time but the meandering wanderings of time. It sounds like much more fun!