Time flies

Time and life fly like a steel toboggan. As kids on the farm we had a toboggan made from a steel sign that once advertised tires. Some clever person had turned up one end making it Alberta’s fastest toboggan. We also had the best hills in the community. We’d push off gently at the top of the hill, reach the suck-in-your-breath point halfway down, and the screaming-wildly spot near the bottom. We shrieked because of the terrific acceleration and because, unlike a wooden toboggan, we couldn’t warp the front end to steer our runaway luge. As in life we had little control over the end of the journey; we might crash into the willow thicket, careen off a snowdrift, or scoot onto the frozen pond, but mostly we simply rolled off.

Life hands us similar challenges. We start gently, but soon things speed up, causing us to suck in our breath over decisions for career, marriage and children. By the time retirement arrives we want to scream in anticipation as we see the end nearing. But we don’t. Kids can scream on a toboggan; screaming seniors would violate our cultural norms. And time does speed up as we age. We have just passed through Easter. It came and went so fast, I almost missed it. It seems to me that we celebrated Christmas three weeks ago and the previous Easter just three months before that. Years ago, time never passed this quickly. As a 6-year-old I recall a day when the snow kept me indoors and boredom reigned. I asked mother when I could begin school. She said, "Soon; you can start in one year." One year seemed like nothing to mother, but to me it loomed like a life sentence.

I believe that we perceive time based on time we have known. When I asked that question at age six, one year represented a huge portion of my life. But for mother it represented only one-fortieth of a lifetime. We judge everything in life based on what we already know.  

I have always found it difficult to estimate how long it will take to accomplish a task, and will never forget one embarrassing situation. When asked to redesign an audio system in a small TV studio, I did. Then they asked me to do the work, first supplying a time estimate. Quickly looking over the plans, I shrugged and said it would take four days. Talk about embarrassment; the estimate turned into four weeks. Luckily, they forgave my blunder, but that helped me to better evaluate time. 

Now here is the rub. As I have grown older, another peculiarity of time has come along to bug me. I’m not sure if it relates to my perception of it as I grow older, or my inability to estimate time required to get things done. In recent years I have discovered that every five or ten minute job always requires at least a half hour. And even worse than that, every half hour task demands a half day.

I am beginning to believe that He who lays out our days and measures time alters the rules as the years advance. Time changes in the same way the print on the page keeps growing smaller and people now mumble instead of speaking clearly. I have also noticed that grocery bags have grown heavier, and when I stoop to pick up something, the floor has moved farther away.  Give me a little more time and I’ll figure this out.


Ray Wiseman