Saturday, 14 January 2012

Time

A few weeks ago Karen at An Artist's Garden blogged about time: not having enough of it, finding it all used up on some of the things she loves while other things she wants to do are forgotten and undone.  Judging from the number of comments made, she struck a chord with a lot of us.  

I have always been obsessed with time.  I remember as a teenager reading Andrew Marvell's "To his Coy Mistress"
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk,and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges'side
Shouldst rubies find;
I by the tide Of Humber would complain.
I would Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear 
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.


It made me shiver.  I felt a delight in the words - the vastness of the vegetable love which for some reason I always saw as a huge cauliflower, the tearing of pleasures through the iron gates of life - shivered over with a ferocious and crushing sense of how brief life is.  The sardonic young man who had pressed his lover with the deliciously cruel couplet:

The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

was himself dead.  Everything passes in the blink of an eye.  This life that I was standing on the threshold of was so brief as to be practically meaningless.

It didn't last, that trembling sensation.  I don't suppose it could have done without driving me nuts.  Life got in the way.  It speeded up and opened out like a river full of sailing boats when I went to university.  It slowed down to a crawl when my children were small and then the years whirled by in a flurry of work and childcare.  Now that the particular feverishness of that juggling is behind me I find increasingly that I do have again that tremulous awareness of how little time there is.  You can't look it full in the face.  It would strike you blind with fear, like the basilisk.  But you can feel it, as Marvell did, at your back, breathing coldly on your neck.  

Perhaps it is getting older that causes this, when the life to come is so clearly so much shorter than the life which has already gone.

Perhaps it is a leftover from when I was ill a few years ago and briefly looked at the prospect of stopping living, stopping when I was so far from ready.  Perhaps it comes from the impact of my brother's stroke and now my father's illness, making me so acutely aware of what they can no longer do and will not be able to do again.  Whatever it is I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to do with the time I have, perhaps not the most productive use of it!

I admire very much the way in which my aged FIL can take whatever pleasure each day provides for him, even though each day is much the same with its mealtimes and its walk and its television, a measured routine which he loves.  Yet that same routine can make me feel that my own life is running away through my fingers, one day so like the last that time speeds up and the weeks whirl past like scenes from a speeding car.  But I don't want a "bucket list" - thirty places to see before you die, fifty restaurants to eat in, ten great novels to read.  That really is not how I work.  When I see friends with more freedom to travel than we have at the moment I don't feel any overwhelming envy of them.  There is the odd pang.  I long to go back to see New Zealand.  I would like to visit friends in British Columbia.  Both of those may happen sometime.  But mostly I am very aware of how fortunate I am to live with people I love in a place that I love and to have the luxury of choosing when and where I work doing something I enjoy.  I love my family and see them often, considering that none of them live nearby.  I love my friends, and see them not often enough.  I love my garden but it would take all the time I could give it and still need more.  I love learning my Welsh but don't do enough of it.  Is there room in my overcrowded life for more of anything or do I need less of something?

What would I regret if I did not do it might be the question I suppose.  It helped me to come to the decision to leave my previous job a couple of years ago.  It wasn't that I didn't like my job, in many ways I loved it, but I knew that if I had only five or ten years left I did not want to have spent them doing more of the same.  I wanted to spend them with the people I love, doing things that I love.  I wanted to have time to make a garden, to make cakes with small children, to sit in a cafe and watch the world go by or drink a glass of wine in the sun with a friend.  Ah that is it.  Writing it down makes me see.  I need to do more idling, both here and away from home I need to do a little less doing and a little more just being.  That is what I need to do with some of my time.  Be.

42 comments:

  1. Dear, Wonderful Weaver of Words,

    You may have shivered when reading Andrew Marvell's poem but I must confess to having shuddered and shivered when reading yours. Why? First, because you use words so magnificently and second, because you have touched upon a subject which makes me quite nervous. Life shortening with each and every day. What to make of it? And as you quite rightly wrote with little children (my youngest is two) life slows down and leaves me, despite my growing wisdom, frustrated come sunset.

    Thank you for giving me food for thought and thank you for being honest. Although I was not seriously ill a year and a half ago a specialist put the fear of hell in me and I faced the fear of mortality with an infant in my arms.

    I am so glad I visit this space of yours.

    Have a beautiful evening just being.

    Stephanie

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ah, Elizabeth, you have written an epic post which matches Marvell observation for observation, sentiment for sentiment. You write in prose but your points strike home as sharply as his. Your love is of life rather than a mistress but the love, the lust, are common. We who have reached a certain age are acutely aware that the sands in the egg-timer are running out and wonder what they conceal by way of illness and infirmity. I share every word of your reflection. And yet the desire simply to - as you put it - 'be' is strong. To stay put, to let go of ambition, whether to travel, to achieve, to read. Of course there are things one wants to do, but they matter less and less; they exist only to give structure and hope. 'Nothing matters very much and few things matter at all,' as another Thomas Hardy is reputed to have said.

    Tonight I put little Theo to bed; he will be three next month. Just the other day I wrote about one of my first memories, a time when I must have been not more than a few months older than he is now. How fast time's winged chariot moves; how relentlessly it accelerates!

    Never mind - 'the daily round, the trivial task should furnish all we need to ask' and perhaps they do. My paternal grandfather (who sadly died before even my earliest memories kicked in) would have afforded precious little account to such sentiments. "Time is all we have," I am told he was wont to intone, "it hangs in centuries about us." He died at the age of 54.

    Thanks for posting this profound piece. It is good to know there are like-minded others.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A beautifully written post Elizabeth, I have enjoyed reading it - and it has given me more food for thought.
    K
    xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Karen. I think we are all fascinated by the business of how to use our lives and what to do with time.

      Delete
  4. A strange thing to read, having realised a few weeks ago that the one thing I might regret not having done more of, when I come to die, would be sitting by the fire reading and thinking.

    But I know that I am still young enough for that to glow warmest in the context of other activities. They provide the necessary foil.

    Then the challenge is getting the balance right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The challenge of getting the balance right is enormous but I do think it is interesting that you already have a sense that more sitting, reading, thinking time might be what you want. It took me a long time to realise that I didn't have to be doing things all the time. I have learnt to do nothing by myself, a little bit, sometimes. What musing about this made me realise is that I would like to have more idling time with other people.

      Delete
  5. I could have written the last two paragraphs, switching out FIL for Mother, learning Welsh with a number of things and I long for different places (your Welsh hills being one of them!), etc.

    Thank you for putting my own recent thoughts into such thoughtful and beautiful words.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is good to realise that we are not alone with these questions Lesley. When you can get to the Welsh hills they (and we I hope) will still be here!

      Delete
  6. I'm going the other way. The older I get, the more my feet itch. The more I count the years in which I will still have energy and mobility rather than the straight number of years I might be on earth, the more I want to do! 'The trivial round, the common task' is all I used to need to ask - now I want all sorts of things I've never had and to do lots of things I've never done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do understand this one Lucy. I think I am helped by having done quite a lot in terms of work and travel so that I know for example that some kinds of travel such as the kind I did for business are simply not what I want to do with my life any more. Knowing how to be mostly content with what you have without losing all ambition, pleasure in change and what Fennie calls "structure and hope" is the task perhaps for me.

      Delete
  7. I knew the phrase ' the grave is a fine and private place' but didn't know that it is from a poem by Andrew Marvell. Like Lucy the older I get the more I want to do but I also agree with you that occasional idleness is a good thing, just to sit and stare and appreciate what is around me. I of all people should have plenty of time, my children are grown and gone, I don't go out to work and our parents are long gone but still there are never enough hours in the day/week/month to fit in all I want to do. That's better than sitting there with time hanging heavy on my hands and every hour seeming like a day though:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't imagine time hanging heavy on my hands either Rowan! For me it is and always has been more a case of trying to cram too much in. Perhaps that is why I am wondering if I can be a little bit idle from time to time, preferably in a cafe with a friend watching the world go by. Can't remember when I last did this although I did have a lovely lunch with a friend before Christmas but even then I was too aware of the list of pre-Christmas jobs to do that was in my head!

      Delete
  8. Idleness? Have you read Stacy in the Q?
    http://microcosm-in-the-q.blogspot.com/2012/01/revving-up-engines.html
    My life is in many ways similar to Rowan's, busy, but mostly happy busy, not frantic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for the link Diana. Very interesting and very timely too.

      Delete
  9. Take your glass of wine and sit in the sun. You have achieved enlightenment.

    And I'm with Mr. Marvell... enjoy the lusts of life while you still have the body for them! Worms shall not try MY virginity, no sir! 8-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well I am with you Marcheline although not entirely sure I still have the body for the lusts of life, but what the hell!

      Delete
  10. Goodness, Elizabeth, what a lot you have given us to think about, not just to think about what you have actually said, but about how we feel, what we want, the direction that we each of us want our lives to go in, and where they are going now, the changes to be made ....... For me, I have been on a quest to simplify my life for a little while now, and what you said at the end of your post struck a cord with me, that little word 'be'. It reminds me that I am a human being, not a human doing, and that means living the very best life that I can live, in my situation and circumstances, being kind, and gentle, and loving, both to myself and to others, to slow down, find out the most important things to 'do', and way to 'be'. Time is a bit like money, isn't it? We all have a finite amount of it, and the thing is to spend it wisely, and get the best value that we can out of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Time being a bit like money is just how I think of it Helen. If you spend it in one way, you can't spend it in another. Both are finite.

      Delete
  11. Stephanie - it is easy to lose sight of life's transience and hard to balance a sense of it with an ability to live well in the moment. Thank you for your very kind words.
    Fennie - I love your comment and the idea that aims and plans exist "to give structure and hope" rings very true with me. To be and to do. "Days are where we live" as Larkin said.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I read this the other day, which, like your post, made me think long and hard on this subject - http://www.inspirationandchai.com/Regrets-of-the-Dying.html

    Also, on a much more flippant note (because, hey, that's me) I'm surprised this poem isn't learnt off by heart by all horny teenage boys. It should surely be their weapon of choice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fabulous and fascinating link. Thank you. I would not have found that without you and it chimes very strongly with me. And yes about the teenage boys, I have always thought this poem the perfect seduction weapon.

      Delete
  13. Like so many of your posts, this has resonance for me and I've thought about it a lot since I read it yesterday. I've always tried to pack as much as possible into my day, mainly, I think, because of a family tragedy that cast such a long shadow over my growing up. It sounds gloomy, but it's that strong sense that it could all be taken away at any moment that drives me. Oh dear, that's not meant to be as despairing as it sounds!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It doesn't sound gloomy at all Chris and is exactly how I have lived my life. I too have the strong sense that it could all be taken away and struggle with whether the response to that is to strive to do more, or, as I am beginning to think, to spend a bit of time in company of those I love doing not much at all.

      Delete
  14. I love that poem; especially the opening words.
    Unlike you, I am green with envy at people my age who have the opportunity to travel. If my life had gone according to my plan (which wasn't so demanding), I would have been almost at that stage. But, as my mother said "More fool me for thinking I was in control of things". Now I have a little 8 year along with the teenagers, so it will be a while before I'm able to do the kind of traveling I had once thought of. I may even be too old to be bothered. Who knows.
    What I have learned however, is to live the life that was handed to me and stop thinking about the past and the future.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I admire you for being able to live the life handed to you. I am pretty good at not thinking too much about the past but am inclined to look forward all the time which may well get in the way of living right now!

      Delete
  15. Time tumbles faster and faster downhill in front of me. I skype with our wee grandsons weekly and see the changes in them - cry, and ask why we have to live so far apart. I long to hold them in my lap, hear their voices, be part of their lives. Almost exactly a year ago I nearly lost my husband, and our life has changed in small ways. I have learned to say what I need to say when I think of it, to do what I really want to do sooner rather than later, to hug my family a lot....my goodness I sound like some sort of strange born-again graduate of a course for too-busy women. It was a crash course. This year I'll have a significant birthday and I'm going to do what I've wanted to do for a while and make a solo trip to the UK. When are you going to come to British Columbia? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Honora, you do not sound strange, you sound certain! And a solo trip to the UK? Can you come and see me? I am aware that this is selfish and that you will have a list of things and places and people a mile long and all your own but it would be very good indeed to meet you having been reading your words for so long.

      Delete
  16. What a lovely (and sensible) post - and I totally and utterly agree, especially with your last para. It's the small things in life which in so many ways make the biggest impact. Big trips are lovely, but so are those cake-making sessions, or in my case finding the time to join a friend for a dog walk / major ball-throwing session on the beach.

    I adore Marvell. My dad had a close (aka golfing) friend who lived at the ancient house/farm where Marvell had been a tutor, and where he wrote 'The Garden'. Alas, the modern garden was not quite up to the seventeenth-century original.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love your dad's definition of a close (aka golfing) friend! Perfect.

      Delete
  17. I too agree with your last para and am trying to indulge in more being and less doing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is hard though Cait isn't it? Our whole upbringing urges us, or at least me, to action, doing, ticking things off and I love doing things and they bring meaning and structure to life, and yet, and yet.

      Delete
  18. astounded by the veracity of this timely and thought provoking post Elizabeth. Hard to respond to other than yes, yes, yes I know what you mean - however many grains of sand we have left they are never enough. Yet still I waste and squander the moments in idleness instead of making each moment count.
    Life feels as distinct as the phases of the moon but even the new moon is an illusion as the planet is always whole. I wish I had travelled outward instead of inwards.

    p.s. Marvell's alluding to tempus fugit is also a hasty lover with no patience for a long seduction
    pps. Tree gazing will be a fruitful way to spend time! Glad you'll join

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah yes to your assessment of Marvell. I have always felt both the pull of the words and the sceptical reserve that says "You would say that, wouldn't you?" Interesting that you think you are squandering minutes in idleness and I am feeling that my life may need more idling to make each moment count!

      Delete
  19. Elizabeth, Diana is a wonder and a joy. I'm so glad you stopped by and am delighted to meet you as well. It's funny--I have been thinking about time, too, but from the other direction. I've spent plenty of time sitting and idling over the past few years and expect to do plenty more. Sometimes it's deeply satisfying and soul-stirring, but sometimes it's just plain dull and deadening. I wonder if it doesn't matter less whether you're idling or doing than whether you're engaged with it or just drifting along. Your FIL sounds like he's mastered the art of engagement. (And more power to him!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fascinating perspective Stacy. I have never really thought of the impact of having too much idling time but can quite see that it might be both satisfying and deadening. You have given me something to think about.

      Delete
  20. I read your well-written and provocative post early on Sunday morning and am not surprised to see the comments. I've been off on leave this week which has given me much opportunity to reflect. And while I tried to achieve the balance between doing (tidying the garden, cooking, sorting my home) and being (sitting, reading, walking the new pup), the death of a younger relative yesterday morning after a battle with cancer emphasised your earlier comment that it could all be taken away. Stacy's comment that perhaps engagement is the key seems like one I should ponder today. For some reason Elliot's line "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" has been running through my head all week...................

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like you, I am intrigued by Stacy's comment. Maybe you can only be engaged if you have some sort of balance between activity and being, which is clearly a challenge if you haven't got the good health to engage with the action.

      Delete
  21. What a beautiful and thought-provoking post, and you say it all with such poignancy. This shall leave me contemplating for some time, for I'm at that phase in life where time has "slowed down to a crawl". For the past four years I have been a trailing spouse in the States and despite the insane amount of travelling, I have always found myself complaining about the 'so much time'. Now that we'll be back to India in the summer and I plan to go for a PhD, I know I'm going to miss the very thing I rant about incessantly - time!

    P.S. Thanks for reminding me of the coy mistress. I remember knowing her first during the college and somehow I too, took the vegetable for a cabbage or cauliflower!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The term "trailing spouse" is so vivid! Good luck with the PhD. Time does shift about like this doesn't if? Sometimes there is too much of it, more often it disappears like water down a hole. I am glad I am not the only one who had the cauliflower image in my head!

      Delete
  22. Wow, what an amazing post. I'm in my thirties I feel it too and I'm not alone many friends of the same age are feeling it. Maybe early mid life crises I don't know. I think we all wonder about what we could be doing and then get dragged down by the thoughts and needs of mortgages, jobs, pensions. Not everyone can give everything up so I think we are trying to find as best a balance as possible. It is hard to achieve sometimes. 'Bucket lists' and 'things to do before you die' books just add another layer of pressure onto people I think. Another area of our lives where we should be 'achieving', crossing things off. I know my parents have some regrets and I don't want to have them but then I am a fairly cautious person so security is important to me, so I often find myself tying myself up in knots. It is comforting to know that others feel the same. Thank you for the post.

    ReplyDelete
  23. What an amazin' post. I so agree, it's our time that is our greatest treasure and we should share it with God, friends and family.

    'Just beautiful.....

    God bless ya from the happy hills and hollers of the wintery Missouri Ponderosa!!!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Again I search Variable Data Printing website .I get true news great.I shared to my friend.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are the best thing and the conversations they produce are the whole purpose of blogging for me. Do tell me what you think!