On my tenth birthday, my mother lit the candles on my cake and said, “Now you’re in double numbers. Now the years will go by fast.” It seemed such an odd thing to say. At that stage of life, when I longed to be a teenager like my cousin Mary Ellen, it felt as though each year was an eternity. It had taken me so long to get to ten, how could time possibly begin to go faster? And yet it did.
It was quite a rude awakening in my twenties when I discovered that the phrase I often used to signify an event that had occurred in my childhood no longer worked. “Ten years or so ago” was once a measure of time that covered half my life. It was a shock to realize that now it only reached back as far as high school graduation, not all the way to Sister Cyprian’s fifth-grade classroom.
That’s when I began to get an inkling of what my mother had meant. Time had moved on and unawares I had moved with it. I could no longer use ten years to give me a point of reference in my childhood. I had to opt for fifteen, and then twenty, and then twenty-five, until one day, I found that even going back thirty years didn’t put me in my grade school days.
That awareness has been accompanied by the loss of that sense of limitless options for my life that youth confers. Now, I have to accept that I am never going to be a heart surgeon. I am never going to be an astronaut. I am never going to understand the theory of relativity, or write a symphony, or win a gold medal in figure skating at the Winter Olympics.
Of course, there are a number of practical and logistical reasons, beyond the passage of time, for those vague possibilities not coming true: an aversion to blood, a fear of heights, a serious problem with math, an absence of any musical talent whatsoever, a distressing lack of physical coordination, among them. Still, my mother’s prediction has proven true—as so many of hers have—time is rushing by.
The awareness that runaway time has put restrictions on even my idle daydreams can sometimes be quite depressing. That’s when I re-read a poem by Tennyson that I first encountered, and only dimly understood, in high school.
Ulysses describes the hero of the Trojan War, returned home after long years of adventure. He rebels at the quiet sameness of life to which his age has relegated him. He determines that he will not surrender to a life of quiet desperation. He urges his long-time friends to join him in pushing forward with whatever measure of courage and strength they still command, for as long as they are able.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Now, all who know me will quickly agree that heroic temperament is not the first phrase that leaps to mind when describing me. I shall not soon be setting sail with or without brave companions to confront a Cyclops or battle wits with the witch-goddess Circe. I won’t even be driving forth in a Winnebago for parts unknown.
However, I will feel free to indulge my random musings about future possibilities, regardless of the rapidly passing years. There’s my idea for STAB, Susan’s Twitter Advice Bureau, wherein, in 140 characters or less, I will give you clear instructions on how to live your life. It’s time I make my skill at clearly seeing what other people should do available to a wider audience than friends and family.
Also, there’s my great concept for a podcast: Susan and KK Talk Through A Movie, a weekly live stream of my sister and me talking over the unfolding Netflix action and then asking each other “Who’s that guy that just died?” or “I thought they were in Indiana. How did they get to Mt. Everest?” And then there’s … well, I shouldn’t say more, or someone might beat me to the punch on that idea.
Time does move quickly after you hit double numbers. And as Yogi Berra (less lyrical than Tennyson, but strong on succinct) said, “It ain’t over, ’til it’s over.”