The Lure of Time

Have you ever thought about how you navigate through Time? Because we do.

Unlike a map however, which has references to the concrete and physical – those hills, that river – and which articulate means to get from one place to another – roads or railway lines, for example – Time has no such attributes, it is an invisible continuum.

Our inherent need to understand ‘where we are’ therefore forces us to create “waypoints”, to impose upon Time something which allows us to navigate through it. For very many people, this juncture of the year offers such comforts: the arrival of Christmas and the coming of the New Year are solid signposts which permit us to root ourselves in Time. We know where we are, and – more importantly perhaps – we understand what’s next.

For many in the northern hemisphere however, what comes next isn’t so great: more long cold days, and even though we are getting a fraction more daylight per day (around 90 seconds), January and February represent perhaps the most difficult stretch of the year with little cheer on the horizon. It is – or it could be – the best example of undifferentiated Time (annual, ironically); a period which serves to remind us that something over which we hold no sway is the tyrant in control of our lives.

So what do we do – both now and throughout our year? We create ‘events’ which allow us to position ourselves in Time, the semi-tangible through which we can rationalise our metaphysical location: ‘resolutions’, the Superbowl, the Grand National, the FA Cup final, Easter, Saints’ Days, public holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. All of these locate us in time, and our relationship to them – “it will be my birthday next week” – is critical in breaking up an intangible infinity into something we can comprehend and work with. And not only do these constructs give us a position now, they also give us something to which to look forward; the end of one thing – a sporting event or an anniversary – allows us to imagine the next.

This is where the ‘lure’ comes in. Such waypoints give us the illusion of control, when in fact we are still and always at the mercy of merciless Time.

As a Writer it is possibly inevitable that one thinks more about the abstract of ‘Time’ than most other people; but as a Person, we are still subject to the same need to know where we are within it. At its heart, our approach will be no different from anyone else’s; we set ourselves goals and targets, we place invisible flags in time – and make them visible by writing on a calendar or in a planner “finish first draft”, “send to publisher”.

The volume of our events and the frequency with which they occur will vary from person to person. There are those who need to have confirmation points today, tomorrow, the day after that; others may make do with one every two or three months. Is there anyone, I wonder, who is able to live their lives without the need for any such markers – and if so, are they more or less happy than the rest of us?

The lure of time? Perhaps rather the trap of time. As we stumble blithely from one birthday to the next, from one match to the next, from one ‘deliverable’ to the next, we are unconsciously navigating towards that point where there will be few more waypoints – and where we look back at all those we lived through and ask “where did all the time go?”