Time Limits

“The days are long but the years are short.” 

Most of us have heard this in the context of how it feels to be a parent. Involved parents certainly affirm it’s validity. The old saying changes a bit when you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness. It seems as though time itself has shifted.

[For those who do not know or simply forgot, all stage IV cancer is labeled terminal. Eh. I do not deny reality. But I still consider God soverign over labels, medical or otherwise. I do not consider myself an average, and have intentionally avoided looking up the particulars such as how long to “expect.” ]

And now the hours are long but the days are short.

When I think on recent days and weeks, they seem to have flown by. But in the moment, everything takes l o  n  g. The standard ~90-minute movie seems like an entire evening. It does make me selective about what I commit to watching. Twenty minutes of walking or reading, vacuuming, or talking on the phone feels like an hour.

Many of us are probably feeling some degree of this due to everything associated with quarantine.

Now is a great time to reflect on the fact that hours, minutes, and seconds are based on a man-made construct.* Our understanding of time has changed over the years, with the scientists themselves showing how the pieces do not fit into a nice unified picture. Atomic clocks can accurately hold pace to within one second of error every hundred million years. It seems a little odd to even worry about that when time itself is not a constant that precise.

Time is not a constant at all. Speed and gravity both will independently change the passage of time! And while 24 hours is the average of days over a year, any single day (as defined by a full rotation of the earth) varies by up to ~30 seconds plus or minus 24 hours. The written definition of time** intentionally omits the words “stable” and “constant,” and now includes phrases like “conscious experience.”

Doesn’t that make you raise an eyebrow?

What if our experience means something? What if we trusted our perception? That’s a bad idea if we’re trying to calculate how to land a fancy remote control car on mars. But we probably should at least some of the time. The way we usually think of time probably has an up- as well as a down-side. Maybe the “second” is unnatural, somewhat like a bag of Doritoes, like Weed & Feed lawn fertilizer, or a composite baseball bat.

Imagine a world with no precise ways to track time. The hours, minutes, seconds blur into each other, analog style, with no man-made divisions. The best you can do is go by the imprecise observation of shadows, and knowing that the day destroys the night; night divides the day. As anyone who has tried to build or use a sundial can attest, even this can be confusing unless you live near the equator. After that, you have to go with something that approximates the lunar cycle. Months!

“I’ll be coming off the plane through terminal E. Meet me there in a half moon.”

“With this specific weight training and plyometric throwing program, I’m hoping to get my fastball up to 2,160 miles/day.”

“Google Maps is saying that it’s a two-moon trip by foot, but that’s walking non-stop. By horseback it’s only 6 days.”

I’m sure our lives would be much different in this hypothetical scenario. But Galileo and his gravity driven pendulum arrived for better and for worse. It wasn’t long until the clean, divided passage of time would order rule our days and nights.

” I’ll set the alarm for 6:15.”

“What time do we get there?”

“When is the Zoom meeting?”

“Did he really run a 4.46?”

“It sounds like a good hourly rate until you find that you’re working 10-hour days.”

Time perception is not the only thing changing for me. We’re all changing to some extent. But I notice fundamental changes in…the mystery that is Robert Walter Gorinski. Yes, Walter, after my great uncle. They’re not all good or bad.

Much of the time I see little need for playfulness (like Luna, our mild mannered huskie). Shenanigans like flips and jumping in the creek, even on hot days, seem unnecessary.  There is less patience from me toward and then between the kids. My natural handwriting is different…neater. I wear out easier both physically and mentally, and this absolutely translates to more introverted tendencies. But I can sit still and focus for greater periods. People write and talk about stress being one factor in getting cancer. But I’m certain that my -perceived- stress was a good deal less before having it.

Sure…we all need to go easy on ourselves, with less getting out, more cabin fever, the thinking about the virus and the economy and an uncertain future. I surely have some of that, second to a tiring diagnosis, chemical, hormonal, and plenty of external and internal changes. For these I need God for his mercy and strength and hope!

There are plenty of things that I hope for; things to be restored. But definitely not all of it. How much of “before” do you really want back? How much should we really expect to be fully restored?

Time will tell.

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**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.

-13th official meeting of the International Committee of Weights and Measures, 1967


**Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future. Time is a component quantity of various measurements used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events or the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change of quantities or in the conscious experience.

-Wikipedia definition of time.

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