Somehow I thought time would seem to slow down as I got older, much as I did. Just as I can no longer sprint down the sidewalk with gazelle-like speed or dunk a basketball, I assumed the passage of time itself would get creakier, lazier, hobbled. (Never mind that I haven't had gazelle-like speed since the age of seven or so, and that my dunking has been limited to wadded-up paper in trash cans. You're missing the point here. We don't have sidewalks out where we live, either, for that matter.)
Instead, time seems to zip past like a tape stuck in fast-forward. Or, to avoid dating myself even further, let's say it's like a program recorded by TiVo being played with all three green forward arrows lit, as if skipping over the commercials. It's all a blur. At least, unlike when zapping commercials on TiVo, my fast-forward life still has a soundtrack.
I notice the souped-up passage of time especially when it comes to the seasons. All my summer shirts still hang in the closet, and I have a drawerful of shorts at the ready should the January temperatures suddenly rise to 90 degrees. What happened to August—or July, for that matter? Autumn was lovely, but shouldn't it have lasted long enough for me to put away my Hawaiian shirts?
Thanksgiving flew by like a wild turkey with a hunter on its tail. One minute I was watching parades and making stuffing and cranberry sauce; the next, we were eating turkey leftovers for the umpteenth time in the zillionth variation. (More turkey muffins, anyone?) The good news is, we still have cranberry sauce in the fridge.
And now, by the time you read this, another Christmas will have come and gone. I thought I was doing a particularly good job of buying presents, making the Christmas-card list and decorating the tree well in advance this year. But the presents seemed to go from the store to under the tree to the unwrapped-gift pile on Christmas Eve in an eyeblink. We hardly had time to enjoy the tree before it was time for the tedium of boxing up all the ornaments for their year-long slumber in the garage. (I wonder how time's passage seems to the Hallmark "Jazzercise Santa" ornament. Does it get hopelessly bored, swaddled in bubble wrap out there for month after month? Or does it think, "Christmas again, already? I was just getting comfortable," when we haul out the ornaments box come December?)
Oh, and those holiday cards? Do us a favor, if you got one, and just save it for next year. We'd be sending out a new batch for Christmas 2006 before you know it, so this will help us stay ahead of the curve. Think of it as recycling.
I remember being bored as a kid. Sitting in study hall, watching the seconds creep by on the big white wall clock over the blackboard (where no one could reach it to make those dang hands move faster). Wriggling with boredom in algebra class, as old Mr. Engen unraveled the secrets of quadratic equations the way a snail leaves a trail of goo in its wake. Lazing through summer days with nothing to do, my friends all otherwise engaged, enduring the drip-drip-drip of time like a leaky faucet until "Captain 11" came on TV with Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear cartoons.
Being bored—what must that be like? I think now that I didn't properly appreciate boredom in my childhood. I remember lying on my back in the swelter of the house we rented one summer in Lexington, Kentucky, a thousand miles from my friends back home, watching the blur of the fan overhead. No friends and no air conditioning. Bored beyond belief. The highlight of the week would be Tuesday morning, when I could walk down to the corner drugstore and see what new comic books had come in.
Enjoy it while you can, kid, I would say now, if I could, to my 10-year-old self. Savor every delicious bit of boredom. Before you know it, life will get busy. Time will speed up, just like in one of those comic-book adventures. The world will whip by like the time The Flash raced Superman. But nobody wins this race.
So here we are in, what, 2006 already. I guess that whole Y2K crisis turned out OK, huh? Seems like just yesterday we were approaching the millennium with trepidation and arguing over whether the 21st century would begin in 2000 or 2001. (For the record, the correct answer is 2001.) Now the first decade of the 21st century is half over, and we still haven't even figured out what to call it. The aughts? The zeroes? By the time we settle on something, it'll be the "teens" already, roaring toward the 2020s.
If life is just going to further accelerate as I officially join the AARP, discover I haven't saved enough for retirement, and start comparing brands of denture adhesive, perhaps I'd better start thinking seriously right now about whom to vote for in that 2024 presidential election. Hmm, Chelsea Clinton or that good-looking Bush nephew, Jeb's kid, whose name escapes me? Hey, at my age, you can't expect me to remember everything!
Otherwise, I'm going to have to do something to slow down this freight train—because the next stop is Memory Lane Cemetery. Oh, I know I can't hold back the grim reaper, much less, as Cher once warbled, "turn back time." (See how I date myself? I can't help it!) Rather, it's the experience of time that worries me. Somehow I'd like to find a happy medium between the interminable boredom a 10-year-old suffers on a friendless summer afternoon and the "if this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium" sense of time-on-a-tour-bus that's overtaken me now that I'm a long way from age 10. I know I can't get off and time won't stop for me to take a bathroom break, but I'd sure like to enjoy the passing scenery a bit more.
The best I can thing of to do is to grasp more tightly the moments of even everyday chores—to live deeper, if only a little, since the universe doesn't leave it up to us to live wider or not.
So yesterday afternoon, for instance, as the deepening twilight signaled that it was getting on five o'clock already, another day all used up and ready for the dumpster, I figured I'd better go haul in an armload of firewood while I could still see to pick up logs instead of, say, a napping squirrel or unwary quail. When I stepped outside, though, I was transfixed by the smear of color across the purpling sky. Bands of pink and orange streamed from the west as though God's crayons had gotten too close to the setting sun and melted all over everything.
And I actually paused. Never mind that, back in the house, the phone might be jangling for the thousandth time that day, or that emails were almost certainly piling up in my Inbox, promising to enlarge my private parts or my investment portfolio. The busy world could wait, for just a nanosecond. Log carrier dangling from my hand, I stopped to enjoy the painted sky.
Darkness soon swept away the spill of colors, of course, like a black broom neatening up the sky for night. And I had logs to gather, ashes to shovel, a fresh fire to kindle before dealing with phones and emails and making supper. Soon it would be bedtime, and then another day and here we go again. Is it 2024 yet?
But just for that moment, in the twilit, early-winter chill, the world slowed to a pace I remembered from childhood, from long-ago summer afternoons and stuffy study halls and endless algebra classes.
This time, I knew enough not to be bored.
David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure.