Time waits for no one | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | May 17, 2017

When I was young, I would spend hours listening to my favorite songs, memorizing the lyrics and painstakingly transcribing them into various notebooks and letters to represent feelings I could not yet express on my own.

At 16, a friend and I would drive around all night long in her dad’s convertible, talking about things, life and whatnot. I saw reading a 500-page book in two days as a logical use of time and a process of discovery when I was 12. (I vividly remember sitting on the blue-carpeted floor next to my bed reading “A Wrinkle in Time.”)

Today, taking that much time to read feels like a rebellion against a long list of to-do’s (all of which need to be written down for me to remember what they are).

As I get older, I find it extremely difficult to not “accomplish” something during most waking hours. Time asks to be filled, and I worry that if it is not worthwhile, like working or paying bills or going to France or climbing a mountain or spending time with friends or family, then it is time wasted.

With each birthday, I try to figure out how to speed up or slow down so I can better feel each second of my existence, battling my obvious lack of control in the matter.

Our perceptions of time, our brain time, is relative, and based on how we have been trained to interpret it. Einstein said that time bends and even passes at different speeds. Time moves faster at higher elevations, for example, and according to the theory of relativity, the faster we move, the slower time goes.

So time moves faster to someone standing still and slows when we drive 40 mph or fly around the world? At best, reality is people existing simultaneously in slightly different timelines that sometimes synch up, depending on conditions.

Making sense of that could take a while.

According to neuroscientists, people perceive time differently when older than younger. Studies show our perception of time is based on how many details we note and remember about the time that passed.

For example, a memory from my weeklong trip to a wild pony-filled beach in Virginia when I was 10 feels much fuller and longer than just last week, which was reliably filled with working and walking the dog as usual. New experiences are logged in more detail than those that are familiar.

When we participate in our habitual acts, our brain does not retain actual memories and assumes the expected elements. Without the actual memories, we don’t perceive the time, hence it feels like time is moving faster.

(I think of the difference between an utterly forgettable 25-minute commute to work versus the nearly half-hour sitting on a dock in Oslo, eating an ice cream cone after a trip to the Nobel Peace Center.)

My husband and I recently stayed in a delightful refuge with no TV, no restaurants, no stores and spotty Wi-Fi – very few things that are familiar these days.

We were up on a hillside, a river flowed not too far in the distance, not a streetlight in sight, just the moon. On our first night we watched a storm move in, first distant bolts of lightning, then crashes with thunder and pelts of rain. We heard the movement of the air whipping in our ears, but no planes or traffic or phones.

We witnessed the storm for more than three hours.

When we had arrived earlier that day (after a long drive, listening to old music that I remembered every word of), the woman checking us in asked what we scheduled to do while we were there, and I replied, “We have not planned anything, so perhaps nothing.” She said, almost as a question, “I hope that’s a good thing.”

I do, too.


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