John Grindrod: An enigma for our New Year’s Day

First Posted: 12/31/2013

There are certain things in life that I’ve decided I’ll never understand, for example how anyone could possibly learn to fold a fitted sheet. I’ve done enough laundry and tried feebly enough too many times to know what I will never know.

And, while the whole list of such items would take up more than my weekly allotment of words will allow, I do know what heads the list. No. 1, presented to you on the first day of our new year, is this: The older I get, the more quickly time seems to go by.

Employing some good old introspection and also the research method of our times, Google, I sought some answers as to why this whole time passage thing is such an enigma. On the surface, time really is a rather finite concept, one which we can define numerically. For all of us, whether we’re 6 or 60, every minute is 60 seconds; every hour, 60 minutes; and every day, 24 hours. And, please, all of you precise thinkers out there, you engineer types like my pal Roger Scott, don’t start in on that “Yeah, but… Leap Year” thing! You know what I mean.

So, my query is, why would the passage of time seem so different for the old compared to the young?

In my ruminations, the first thing that I thought about was the adage, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” I wondered whether there may be some relevance there when it comes to time passage. However, I don’t think there are that many of us in the more mature flock who would dispute the perception that the carefree days of our youths, filled with all sorts of “firsts” experience-wise, were a whole lot more fun than current experiences with arthritis, colonoscopies and more time in the bathroom.

So, why do I remember years that seemed so much longer from one Rose Bowl to the next Granddaddy during a time when there were only four major bowls, ones that came without corporate naming rights?

In tapping the mouse and reading, I discovered there’s actually been quite a bit written about this whole time-passage perception.

Of course, there were a number of parent-related assessments of time when it comes to kids, and they all seemed to fit into that “they-grow-up-too-fast” category. While I certainly can identify with this, since I’m surrounded by many school-aged pictures of my babies, Shannon and Katie, who are now beautiful married women facing their own adult challenges, that really doesn’t get to the heart of the question as to why time seems to pass more quickly as we age.

Author Philip Yaffe’s theory involving time passage revolves around the duality of anticipation and retrospection.

“The natural cycle of life is to anticipate that which matters most to us,” Yaffe wrote. “When anticipated, each significant event seems to be excruciatingly far away. However, after the event, we regularly look back and exclaim, ‘Did it really happen that long ago?’”

Yaffe goes on to say that in youth, “Our first love, our first heartbreak, driving a car, landing a job, marriage and so on, when we look forward, all these things seem impossibly far in the future. However, once achieved, how quickly they recede into the past.

“Therefore, the older we get, the more milestones we have to look back on and the further and faster they appear to recede into the past. So, if sometimes the clock may seem to have stopped, the calendar always continues racing ahead.”

I suppose there’s some truth to that, especially if you consider that as we age, there are certainly fewer new experiences to anticipate, except, of course, the one none of us want either to think or talk about.

The theory that I read, one proposed by a number of people, makes the most sense. Essentially, it’s this: When we’re young, each year is a greater percentage of our total life. For instance, for my little precocious granddaughter Caroline (aren’t all grandchildren to their grandparents?), who’s 4, this year represents 25 percent of her entire life. However, when she turns 5, that year will represent only 20 percent, and that year will take on the illusion of being shorter. On it will go for her, as it does for all of us.

For me, at 62, is it any wonder that each year seems to go so quickly when I look back on the bare-bones resume of my experiences in 2013 compared to the six decades’ worth of resume that comprises the rest of my life?

Along with Dan Griffin, Quentin Clark was co-favorite during my teaching career when it came to being a supportive and effective principal. Quint, on those days when he saw my furrowed brow, a manifestation of fretting over classroom work loads and problems, would sense some temporary despair and say, “John, this too shall pass.”

While it did provide some comfort at the time, I am now far more cognizant of the fact that it is not only our trials and tribulations that do pass but also those moments of joy that we would dearly love to hold onto far longer.

And, so for all of us, my New Year’s wish on this our alpha day of 2014 is this: Let’s demand of our coming year far less celerity during our good times and far more in our moments of despair.

Happy New Year, friends.