Emotional Time Machines

When people I come across exclaim to me that their father, or aunt, employer et cetera is 94 years old, or other such ages, they do not get the pleasure of my astonishment or admiration, even if the nonagenarian or centenarian in question “can take care of himself.” In hospice, I routinely meet those in extreme old age, even those who have superb memories and can remain the masters of their own homes. I had met one lady, about 97, who kept a social calendar and often went out to dinner. So, nope. Sorry. You can’t impress jaded old me with stories about the “old old.”

Provoking some thought however was a gentleman who had recently turned 100. I asked him how it felt to reach that age, and he wistfully said, “I can’t believe I’m a hundred. It all flashed by in the blink of an eye.” I wondered at this. You can feel this way about time no matter how many years you are literally talking about. Here’s a man who had gone through the transition from horses to cars,  two world wars,  the Great Depression, the invention of airplanes and computers, and the introduction of space travel, and with a look of surprise concluded that his whole life zipped by, skipping the rest stops.  

Oftentimes I have heard as you must have, that people feel the older they get, the faster their lives seem to go. My theory is that when we are older, we may tend to have more routines and less dramatic changes such as going from school to the work world, and that therefore when we are in a routine and nothing major brings us up short, we go jauntily along without the interruption of something new to learn or cope with. Even so, I myself do not feel that way about my mounting years. Even when I was about 28 and had completed my dissertation on conversational analysis, I felt satisfied that I had done a lot for a 28 -year-old and already had had a full life. But maybe throughout my life I have not felt that time has unfairly slipped away, because I have never settled down to the status quo for long. I’ve had a few different careers and am always getting myself into new endeavors such as this blog. What a contrast that the 100-year-old felt like he was just getting started.

Do you feel your life is speeding up? Any idea why? Do you think grappling with changes slows it down? Do you feel as I do; that time has passed evenly over the years and that the real time and the emotional time have been more or less in tandem?


4 thoughts on “Emotional Time Machines

  1. Dia says:

    I’ve felt the speeding up of time over the years and always assumed it was a case of relative comparisons. I remember when I was four waiting for my fifth birthday it seemed like forever because one year was 25% of my entire life. But now one year seems so much briefer and faster compared to all the other years I carry around in bulging pockets. I sometimes wonder how giant redwoods or mountains or stars experience time and if a year might be just a blink, a heartbeat, in their ancient rhythms. And in an experience of eternity? I suppose it would disappear entirely.


    • Karen says:

      I do agree with the percentage solution. And that, too, is dependent on the amount of novelty embedded in each year. For a four-year-old, just about everything is novel. For a jaded Boomer like me, far less is novel within one year.


  2. Hello Karen,
    Yes, I definitely feel my life has speeded up greatly as the years go by but it is a feeling I enjoy. I think it is because I am usually absorbed in what I’m doing – even queuing in a supermarket queue can be interesting if you like ‘people watching’. I remember working in jobs I had to do from necessity rather than pleasure – an hour would seem like a week!
    Also, I live in Worthing, on England’s south coast – we are nicknamed ‘zimmerframe (walker) city’ – not unfairly(!) and ‘God’s waiting room’. Although there are young people around, we get used to mixing with people as old as ourselves – and I, for one, enjoy that! Experience can make us a bit wiser sometimes.


  3. That’s true; being engaged in something speeds it up, while slowness spells boredom (except for meditation, I suppose). I love mixing with all ages. It’s like perusing a variety of flowers and plants in a garden.


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