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Which thought it was time to make a few remarks about time

I never could understand Einstein’s theory of relativity, so I have no idea whether he is absolutely right or absolutely wrong about time. It is, therefore, with the realization I may be contradicting the greatest mind of the 20th century, that I set down my own ideas on the subject.

Conclusion 1. Time is relative to nothing except the mind. It is for the individual absorbed in a project that tempus fugit; for the one who is bored, that tempus fidget. Time, left to itself, goes along at a steady plod. A clock which has more time on its hands than anyone else, will testify to this. If said hands do not count off the minutes at fixed intervals, no one complains that time is out of order. It is the clock which gets regulated.

Now all of this is highly comforting to the person who finds time passing very slowly indeed. He has a written guarantee with no fine print exceptions, that the minutes, the hours, the days, the whathaveyous, are moving along at the standard rate. Time is blending his “long” day into eternity with the impartial, controlled speed of an electric mixer. Whether, at the moment, he believes it or not, time is passing because it is the nature of time to do so.

On the contrary, the individual whose day is always too short, derives no comfort at all from the same guarantee. Reading it through, he bursts into tears of rage because he cannot regulate time to his wishes. In this emotional state he is likely to overlook the fact that he can regulate himself. He may step up his efficiency or cut down his commitments. Or he may acquire an ulcer or a heart attack, either of which will slow him down if it does not dispose him permanently. Meanwhile time goes on its measured way, uncaring.

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Conclusion 2. There are numerous comments on time which inspire further comment.

(a) Inscription on a sundial: “I count only the sunny hours.” This is making a virtue of necessity. Everybody knows a sundial at night is good only for tripping up an unwary burglar who hasn’t plotted the garden properly. Yet there is no denying such a motto, taken seriously, would benefit the human race. We are surrounded by gloomy “dials” who not only count only the dark hours, but who also recount them to the last bitter detail, which is why they are such poor company.

(b) “There is no time like the present” might better be stated “There is no present like time.” As is true of any gift, if you can use it, it is invaluable. Unlike any other, if you can’t, you can’t trade it in for anything you’d rather have. That is what makes time unique.

(c) “Time is money.” There’s a catch in that. You may think that you’re paid by the hour with premiums for overtime, but you aren’t. It is what you do by the hour that keeps the paychecks coming. Time, per se, isn’t worth a plugged nickel. Since everybody has the same amount of it, it must be achievement (or some other extraneous factor) that decides the wage differential. This is not to say the decisions are always absolutely fair, but that is hardly the fault of time.

(d) In the Book of Ecclesiastees we read, “There is a time to die.” This is not as fatalistic as it sounds, since death is only one of a number of things listed for which there is a time, but it does raise the question of what is a good time to die. For my part, I can think of two. One is before I know I’m going to. To sit around waiting for death, to talk to people who know I am waiting but don’t want to mention it, impresses me as being an intolerable situation. And the other favorable time is before all my friends die. A sadness that accompanies longevity is the repeated sorrow of seeing the circle of love grow smaller. I don’t know whether it is better to be mourned than to mourn, but I’m sure the first is much easier.

(e) “Time is divided into three periods: present, past and future.” Actually it comes closer to two. The future is indefinite in length, yet generally conceded to exist. Bombs may blow this world apart, but the universe is expected to continue. The past is also of indefinite duration, but there is no argument about its having been around. The present, however, is so constantly being jostled into the past by the future pressing against it, that it becomes nothing more on the time line than a dividing point, a zero having no substance whatever. Maybe you can’t live in the future and you shouldn’t live in the past, but how can you live in the present if there isn’t any? Man has deeply pondered where he has lived, and how, and why. I contend the real question is, “When?” All things considered, I doubt if he has, since time seems to provide no interval when he could.

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Louise Lincoln and A. Walrus
Columbus, Ohio 43209

With the able assistance of Alf Babcock, Cranford, New Jersey

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