Time Passing Me By

How can we accept aging and the fact that our bodies will die?

Topics

Faith

I arise each morning, stumble to the sink, wash my face, and then stare in horror at the sagging, wrinkled jowls in the mirror. What happened to your youth, old boy? Yet, I don’t feel old; I can still huff and puff up big hills. That face in the mirror must be a costume mask, one I can remove at the end of my filler role here on this world stage. Recently I Google-searched about this persistent sense that time is fast passing me by, and I found some provocative ideas.

Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain attempts an answer. The relevant chapter is called “Excursus on the Sense of Time,” in which Mann writes, “The interestingness and novelty of the time-content are what make the time pass; that is to say, shorten it; whereas monotony and emptiness check and restrain its flow.” Putting aside his nineteenth-century academic style, one can only agree: entertainment quickens but boredom slows things down. Simple enough.

The author of a BBC Scientific article titled “Why Does Time Speed up When You Get Older?” says this: “As a 34-year-old, a year accounts for just under 3 percent of my life. My birthdays seem to come around all too quickly these days. To my four-year-old son, the idea of having to wait a quarter of his life until he’s the birthday-boy again is almost intolerable.” I try to explain this to myself more clearly. As a four-year-old, I saw time passing slowly because my brain was not stuffed with memories, compared to being 80 years old with 20 times the stored experience. One month in my old age seems a relatively short period of time given the span of 960 months, compared to the 48 months I lived as a 4-year-old with summers that seemed to last forever.

An article from Psychology Today, “Why Time Goes by Faster as We Age” by Clifford N. Lazarus (Nov. 2020), reports on Dr. Bejan’s neural pacemaker theory: “As we age, our brain’s neuro-visual memory formation equipment slows and lays down fewer ‘frames-per-second.’” Whoa. Brain neurons slow with aging, so our perception of timed events speeds up.

Further search turns up this interesting tidbit: Time is not a universal constant like the speed of light, but is ever subject to our circumstantial perceptions, in accord with Einstein’s theory of relativity. For example, using identical atomic clocks, time measured at sea level is slower than at the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado. Mountain dwellers will age slightly faster. On the other hand, seniors living at that altitude might be able to think faster as well as perceive time moving slower. I think I’ll stay at sea level.

All this is too complicated for my shrinking brain. What I know for certain is that time can, has, and will change me, no matter what I think, say, or do. I vainly gulp expensive pills for rejuvenation, so I can indulge again in the vanities of this world—those exotic foods and women in far away places that beckon me. No question, this is why I resent time passing so fast, making me old and ugly. When will I accept that my body and brain dies, sooner or later? My indulgent life is over and done? Who but God will remember me, my conquests and trophies, after I’m long-buried beneath an eroding granite tombstone with blurry inscriptions of my heyday?

I take comfort that the phenomenon of time passing me by too swiftly is nothing new, as evidenced in 2 Peter 3:8: “With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Philosopher-kings in ancient times quizzed their scribes and counselors over this curiosity.

St. Augustine wrote, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Likewise, in 1670 Blaise Pascal wrote on the God-shaped hole in our hearts that aches more as time passes:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensées, VII 425)

With this wisdom I can now accept the old man in the mirror.

The Lord God says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, which is, which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). And, “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). His promise comforts my soul. I will no longer fear that few grains of sand remain until my appointed hour, provided I am contemplating in my every thought, word, and deed the First and the Last: the Christ everlasting.

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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