Time that passes and passes us by

05/29/2014

It seems incredible that although I’ve lived half my life in this country, and despite my adapting very well to life here, part of me continues to feel foreign. How different it is when I go to Mexico, where I move like a fish in water and identify with everyone and everything, as if no time had passed. Here in the U.S., however, my perception of time has been changing, as if time were moving faster, although both here and there the changes and dates give evidence to the contrary.

Of course I know that the way in which we perceive time is going to change with age and circumstances. As a kid, watching my dad shave, I never thought I’d grow up do that. Events and dates I was looking forward to were slow to arrive, and when they finally did they were over too quickly. Those boring school hours stretched out to infinity, while long-awaited vacations passed like a breath. Adolescence, though intense, looked like it was going to go on forever, but adulthood finally did arrive and now time seems to pass faster and faster.

Is time, that abstract yet familiar concept, something that passes us in its constant march, or are we passing through it? Probably both things are true. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we live on a planet that is constantly rotating and revolving around the sun, giving us days and nights, seasons and years. We humans have invented diverse ways of measuring the passage of time, and ancient civilizations were able to do it with some precision. Today the calendar and wristwatch are useful and normal.

Living beings on earth inevitably must comply with the organic, biological laws of transformation: we are born, grow and die in our ephemeral passage through this world, and by reproducing, attempt to survive as a species. The inorganic, inanimate materials are also transformed and change over millions of years. All this takes place, whether we understand it or not, in that intangible, unstoppable, infinite dimension we call time. Will this make sense as we move away from earth and venture light years out into the infinite universe?

In the last decades we have seen important changes in human life expectancy, as well as in the population index. People are living longer now and the birth rate is down. This is affecting the socioeconomic dynamic of our society. We are getting to the point where we have more people of retirement age living longer and less young people in the labor system who produce and pay for the social benefits of those retirees.

Further, the way we are told to feel about youth or age has changed. Consumption, fashion, customs and technology tell everyone that a youthful appearance and attitude not only can be timeless, but that their permanence is obligatory. Respect for the elderly has therefore diminished; elders are considered almost waste material, while medical science works to lengthen their lives. The baby-boomers were the stars of the profoundly transformational era of the 60s. They initiated a change of paradigms, with the sexual revolution, civil rights, feminism, music and other expressions of the young, who were then in the majority. At age 60 to 70, they now seem out of place.

Thus, it’s a little strange to see a Rolling Stones concert these days, with an audience consisting mainly of old folks acting like the youngsters they once were—including the ancient British performers themselves—or, perhaps, to attend a dance or musical event and see the gray or bald heads moving their eroded bodies with abandon. They don’t seem so different from their children or grandchildren who occasionally accompany them, though of course they are. It’s also interesting to see some important newscasters on television, in English or Spanish, or comedians such as David Letterman or the recently retired Jay Leno, who all came to fame 20 or 30 years ago and are now in the twilight of their lives. 

At the same time, the rapid changes in digital technology make it difficult to keep up—especially for older adults—tending to make them socially deficient. While this is already evident here, where more than 90 percent of homes have Internet access and most people have the equipment to gain that access, one has to wonder how it is in countries like Mexico, where the figure is only 30 percent.

Now, grizzled and wrinkled, I see in my mirror of time that other me: impatient to grow up and see the me now reflected, the one able to shave like my dad.

 

Victor Reyes is a translator, writer and teacher and a native of Puebla, Mexico.