I celebrated my birthday last month, and I’m at that age where I keep forgetting how old I am. Quick math: I was born in 1985 and it’s 2022 so…yes, I turned 37 in August. And yet, I don’t feel 37 — or, rather, I don’t feel like I assumed it might feel to be 37, 10 or so years ago. I still feel like me, just with more life experience under my belt and (thankfully) much more awareness of who I am. And meanwhile, time just keeps on moving…
I’ve been thinking a lot about time recently, and about time travel in particular. We just read a book in my book club called This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub about — you guessed it — time travel. I LOVED this book, and it’s no wonder. After all, my favorite book (The Time Traveler’s Wife) and my favorite movie (About Time) are both rooted in time travel.
I realized I love this device so much because, even though time travel is sci fi, it’s also so very real. We time travel constantly in our minds, moving backwards through memory and imagining the future and moving sideways, too — visualizing alternate realities that don’t actually exist but feel very real in their own way. A helpful parenting device for me is to mentally time travel with my children, which really helps me appreciate the here and now — even (especially) when the here and now is challenging. I might imagine that I’m spending time with 15-year-old Maggie, for example, and then come back to the 5-year-old, present day version of her with a new appreciation for the stage she’s in right in this moment.
And to add another interesting layer to the mix, I love when time feels like it overlaps — those moments where I feel like the younger or older version of myself is passing me on the street, or sitting across from me at a table. We have an exchange, of sorts — we see each other and know each other in a way that feels tangible and profound.
When I time travel, I find I’m much more acutely aware of my mortality in a way that feels healthy and grounding and motivating. The exercise reminds me that time is fleeting, that things change fast, and that I should do my best to make the most of this life — however much of it I have left. That “making the most of it” does not come without intent focus, and it’s up to us to continue to show up and truly live our values as best we can.
I also appreciate those time travel books and movies because the message tends to be around presence and hope. Generally, the key takeaway is that the protagonist doesn’t actually need time travel after all — that instead the real magic is living life the way it’s meant to be experienced. This is a reassuring concept since, you know, I can’t ACTUALLY time travel. (I know — shocker!) And so although those mental journeys I take feel real and relevant in their own way, I feel at peace with the fact that they can only happen inside my head and not in the world around me.
As I think ahead to the years to come (and hopefully I have many, many more of them in front of me!), I can only imagine my mental time travel picking up. I’ll have more past experiences to travel back to, and I bet at a certain point my travel into the future will be more centered around a world without me in it — a world that includes my children and perhaps their children as they continue to learn and grow and connect and become.
And so, today I’m 37. And I’m also 12…and 89…and gone…and 4. All of it feels right and real and known and mysterious and exciting and human. A distinct awareness of time IS uniquely human, in fact — something I think we can use as a gift to squeeze as much love and connection and good intention as we can out of this life.
“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” – Henry Van Dyke
“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” – Albert Einstein