It’s a funny one, time. It can be comforting, terrifying, it’s fixed – we all know that “the second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom“, or, as I had remembered it, the duration of 9,192,631 vibrations of the caesium atom, because I learnt that when I was eleven and didn’t know about ground states, and if you didn’t know that you were at least all aware that a second is as long as any other second – it’s fixed, but it never feels like that, it’s an absolute constant in our lives and the one thing we absolutely cannot do anything about.
[Ed: At this point the author broke off in order to go and make herself a cup of decaf real coffee in a cafetiere, got muddled, and made caffeinated instant coffee instead, and consequently lost her train of thought. Hmm.]
Personally I love time. Because all you can do about time is choose how you decide to see it. Either you panic about how your exam is on Wednesday and now that’s only five days away, or you say to yourself, that’s five working days, three major topics left to cover, one day to travel in, and one day left to go over everything. A day is a long time, after all. It’s made up of 24 hours, and thing of all the things that can happen in just one minute. Or you can think, in six days time it’ll be thursday, and all over.
Equally, perhaps it’s your first day at a new job, or something, and that is scary, as we all know, and then it might be easier to think, right, it’s half past seven. Now I’m going to go downstairs, now I’m going to eat breakfast, now I’m going to have a shower, now I’m going to get dressed, now I’m leaving the house, getting a train, arriving at my new job, introducing myself: and never think further ahead than the absolute moment you’re in.
Time is comforting because it moves, and you know it will pass. You can say to yourself, right, that’s a day I got through, that’s two days, that’s a week. Nothing goes on forever, and everything is always changing, because that’s how these things work. Whatever it is you’re trying to get through – the world’s longest labs session, ever, a break-up, the weeks and months until you see your partner again because they’re on another continent right now, time will pass, everything ends.
When I used to get homesick on residential trips as a child I lived by the pizza-slice theory of time, which was also very helpful when my dad went to New Zealand for twelve weeks. Each day was a slice of pizza, and you could work out the fractions. Twelve weeks was dead useful – because three weeks was a whole quarter, and four weeks a third, you could see the fractions getting bigger and more standard, turning into thirds and halves and quarters rather than three twelfths (which doesn’t really sound like a lot) or 2/7, which is weird (but very nearly a third, so round it up).
The best thing is, when times are good, you don’t think about time. It just passes. And yes, sometimes it seems to fly too fast, those summers just after we left school and in the course of sixth form, those two or three months always seemed too short (although that said that’s possibly partly because I wasn’t necessarily conscious for huge fractions of them…), but you can’t hang on, because you don’t know what else is around the next corner.
There is just so much time, too. I’m only twenty, and with a little luck I have at least sixty years left in me. So there’s time to make mistakes and for things to go wrong. There’s time to fight and make up, to decide who you really want around, to change your mind. That’s something I’ve only realised in the last couple of months – having regained contact with a friend after having hardly spoken in fifteen months because of a whole gossip-and-scandal Situation, with a capital S (*breaks off to sing*…’sweet soul music, that’s the best…’), lots of anger and things there, but actually, fully a year later and we realise we still have good reasons to be friends, and it’s working, and hopefully I’ll be seeing him soon, hopefully, face to face, I’ll still be laughing from the moment I walk through that door.
So yes. I like time. It passes, there’s lots of it, it’s comforting, it doesn’t need to be scary, not in the normal run of things, anyway. Time is always on your side.