How Do You Measure Time? by Ruby Barnes

How does your garden grow?

Dandelions are a curse for gardeners and right here, right now in Ireland, those yellow flowers are popping up all over my lawn. They elbow their way to the surface and push away the grass. Even if you dig them out they leave a muddy patch for the grass to re-colonise and Alfie the dog is likely to dig a fresh hole there as he loves the smell of dandelion roots. Yet, when Alfie and I take a stroll over the field across from our house, those same dandelions are delightful to look at, showing their sunny faces as a reminder that the long wet winter has passed. But can it already be a whole year since the last time they rose up, flowered and shook their seeds into the wind?

Perennial pests are a good reminder of our planet completing another solar orbit. I count car and house insurance policies in this category. The annual slap around the head of increasing car insurance premiums, which should surely be falling as I get older, can be mitigated by spreading them out monthly. Other anniversaries are less avoidable. Birthdays and feast days are there to let us know that we’ve put another ring on our trunk. As we age, we perversely seem to be sprinting around the sun compared to the way we drifted aimlessly through our early years as children. When the admin office at work calls to let me know my Easter egg from the social club is awaiting collection, I feel a twinge of sadness. One small chocolate egg closer to recycling. Two fun-sized Crunchie bars nearer to composting. Then I eat the chocolate and feel okay again.

We thought we'd never get there!

In our youth we wished our lives away. Days were counted down to mid-term break like a prisoner marking the wall of a cell. Alice Cooper delighted us with School’s Out for Summer, because to us it meant that school really was out for ever. The next school year was so far away, a whole summer distant. By that time life would be different, we might grow inches in height. People became distorted versions of their younger selves, things were changing so fast. We couldn’t wait ‘til the holidays, we couldn’t wait until some event or other. Sometimes we couldn’t wait until something had passed as the apprehension of an upcoming test or dentist appointment was too much to bear. Treasured toys, a favourite bicycle, those really cool jeans, all thrown away as we left them behind in our rush to grow up.

Today I pop a tablet out of the blister pack of thirty allergy pills and count another day. It shocks me when the blister pack is empty and another month has passed. I go to the box and pull out another packet, thinking it might be time to place my annual order. I could try and stretch them out, to go without for a few days – the worst that would happen is a sinus infection. But planet Earth would continue to spin at a thousand miles an hour, orbiting the Sun at 70,000 miles per hour. The meter of Life’s taxi would continue to run.
I've perfected reading the time backwards

Somewhere between today and youth there must have been a point of equilibrium, a point where the passage of time felt bearable. A day in passing felt like a day’s worth of Life. But, like the highest point of a hill, it’s often difficult to tell when you’re on the spot unless you have the benefit of a view from a distance. I accept that I can’t slow the passage of time. The impression that time is speeding up is purely an illusion, perhaps caused by increasing familiarity of events. So I try to pack my life with new and different things, to dilute the familiarity. Each passage of a year makes me groan, but recollection of the things done and said in that same 365 days makes me smile. 

How is time passing for you? Do you feel each grain of sand or is it all a blur?


Dennis Hamley said…
This is a profound post, Ruby, which will haunt me for the rest of the day. Your image of the pills struck home. I have yards of medication on my repeat prescription, which I renew every three months. That's four dedicated visits to to the pharmacist a year. Whole years are OK but three months is a finite enough number to make me shiver each time I pass that measuring post. How many more times will I pass it before my ration runs out?
Jan Needle said…
Lovely piece, Ruby. I've long found it fascinating how time speeds up as you get older and I too, can remember how amazingly slowly it once wandered on. Weirdly, it's writing my monthly post here that is the craziest. I'm caught out every month (with nothing to say) because I can't believe I've only got two or three days left to do it in. Every month I wonder if I ought to stop, on the sole grounds that AE seems to be rearing my life away. Odd, innit? I'll have to learn to love the smell of dandelion roots.
Bill Kirton said…
Interesting to note that, unless someone else is writing a comment which gets posted before this one, the first three comments are from AE's senior citizens. It's a beautiful, lyrical post, Ruby, encapsulating feelings most of us share and sensing the flow of the space-time continuum not through its curves or warps or unimaginable black holes and event horizons, but with blog entries, blister packs and dandelions.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Never a truer word has been said. Beautiful and evocative piece.
Susan Price said…
It is a beautiful post, Ruby. Thank you.
Andrew Crofts said…
Speaking as another seniorish citizen, I can completely identify with everything here. The only proviso I would add is that when I really think back to childhood I can remember that the frustration and boredom of not being able to get started on the excitements of adult life were sometimes almost unbearable. With the value of hindsight those years attain a sort of golden glow but I would not want to go back there now - apart from the physical deterioration, being old is much more fun.
Sandra Horn said…
Time is a trickster. Sometimes it slows to an unbearable extent, speeds up, doubles back on itself, spirals... Measuring it by ever-increasingly 'accurate' devices creates an illusion of forward-going regularity. Thank you for this beautiful, moving post about the lived experience of time - from another AE Senior Citizen.
I'm with Sandra, I believe time is not fixed... sometimes it runs faster than at other times. Or maybe it's just our brains that run faster and slower? Whatever, this effect fascinates me - I have days when time slows up and I get masses done, and other days when whole hours seem to go AWOL. Have you read Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time"? I keep meaning to get around to it...
@Ruby_Barnes said…
Thanks folks. I think I'll compile a list of all the positive activities that seem to make time slow and then do those things more often. Or maybe they'll lose that characteristic once they become routine?
Lovely piece and so true. Every time we put the Christmas decorations away, we wonder if we should just leave them because we'll have to get them out again next week. Or that's what it feels like. Facebook induces a kind of panic as well, by showing you pictures you posted 'five years ago' - only that seems like last week as well. A good inducement, though, to get on with writing projects!
Lynne Garner said…
Thanks for that.

It depends what I'm timing. My relationship with him-in-doors is counted either in toasters and dogs (both last a long time in our household). My year is counted in terms (I teach when I'm not writing). My weeks are counted in how many days until I'm allowed a glass of wine (try to only drink at the weekend).
madwippitt said…
Nonono ... dandelions are GOOD guys ... the roots are deep drawing up nutrients far down in the soil which other 'good' plants can't access, and making them available ... and early in the year when there are few other blooms around, they can help to sustain early bugs such as bees ... Leave them dandelions alone! :-)

But otherwise yes, Oscar had it so right when he said that youth is wasted on the young. The older you get the more you appreciate this ... although would being young have been half so much fun burdened by the wisdom (!) of age?
Enid Richemont said…
Time? When you're happy, it accelerates, reminding you somehow that these joys will soon be over. When things are not inspiring, or simply wrong, it drags interminably. And yes, I am another ancient 'Electrical' in need of getting its fuse box sorted.

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