He would never understand how time developed a flexibility that defied the laws of physics. An hour, a minute, a second, they were all standard measures. Each the same as every other. Yet lately they had changed, flexed. For the most part they had gotten shorter, shrunken. He knew that wasn’t possible until he remembered Einstein’s famous quote.* But perhaps that Einsteinian law applied only to those of a certain growing age, like his.
*Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.
Grace settles into the chair, less an act of sitting than of floating down onto the seat. She has borrowed my grandmother’s smile, kind, gentle, inviting. She pulls a book from her bag, its pages or most of them dog eared, and I glimpse some annotations in the margins. We sit around her like children awaiting presents on a holiday, as acolytes seeking knowledge from a font of poetic and prosaic wisdom, or so we think. She reads in a voice that is at once soft and loud enough to reach the back of the room, opening the book to a random page and diving in, then after what seems like a minute and an hour, she stops and asks for questions. We sit dumbstruck for a moment then fire at her like machine gunners on the range. She answers each, claims she is a simple grandmother who writes but we know better, know we are in the presence of a true master.
My first inclination, in fact my strong desire, when he asks me what time it is, is not to consult my watch, but to say that we live in an age of unprecedented uncertainty, an era of division and incivility, and days fraught with risk that each might be the last.
I know he wants to know the hour and the minute, but if he is late, the moment wasted in knowing just how much so merely adds marginally to the problem.
And if the question lacks that import to him, then time is no more than a human construct, malleable despite our demand of rigidity, and subject to the whims of Popes and politicians, and all the rest of nature can only marvel at our absurdity.
In the elemental scheme of things we humans are, at best, middling. We are minute in the scale of the universe, our time not even a glimmer, and as we age, time contracts, but only in the shortening forward direction. But pity the poor hydrogen-7 isotope whose life is likely over in 30 yactoseconds, absorbing the laughter of helium-5 living on average, 33 times longer, and both jealously, if ever so quickly regarding our seemingly infinite span. But lest we get complacent, there is always zirconium-96 for whom our life is but the blink of an eye, barely worth noting, a second at most in a span that could reach twenty quintillion years, so we are nothing special, save in our own eyes.
The sweep of the second-hand, the minute hand is constant, each moment as long as the last, none longer, none shorter and yet I know that Einstein was right in noting that things unpleasant take forever, while all that is joyful passes quickly even when the elapsed time is the same. What Albert didn’t say is that the unpleasant leads us to look for the future, keeping us locked longer in the present moment. That which is pleasant keeps us present and the future seems to come too quickly, the pleasure slipping away. It is, in the end, merely perception and I prefer to remain in the present for it is all that I have, and all that I choose to make it.