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  • Rae Story

The Fugitive Nature of Time

The expression 'Time Flies' suggests a running away with time - possibly whilst we are doing something fun! Or maybe while are simply looking the other way. I found myself in front of this stone again in Marie Louise Gardens last week. With a friend we stopped and remarked on the stone which is now being used as a general squirrel table and had remnants of their lunch on display. My friend asked what it was - only a partial plate remaining on top of the stone I knew the answer because I have been visiting these gardens for more than twenty years. It used to have a sundial on top. Long gone. Apparently it is a common motto on sundials, clocks and gravestones.

Unlike the English translation of 'Time Flies', Tempus Fugit suggests a slightly different emphasis, in its original Latin from line 284 of book 3 of Virgil's Georgics - fugit inreparabile tempus: "it escapes, irretrievable time". This gives us more of a sense of time getting away from us, it's elusiveness, it's fugitive nature. And in the translation given here the fact that it is irretrievable.

There is a common agreement that our perceptions of time speeds up as we get older, days would last for ever when we were children and months go by in the blink of an eye as we get older. But then my friend told me that her 5 year son said:

'Mummy - time is just going too fast'. How interesting! So even the children are finding time is escaping them. When I asked one of the elders about that she said 'well yes, didn't you know time is speeding up ?' - as if that was common knowledge. Another elder told me, 'time is not speeding up - it is us who are slowing down'.

During the passing months of this year many of us have noticed how time seems changed by unfolding events. Maybe it is just our perception of time. Or perhaps time itself is altered. People have told me that time is both fast and slow at the moment. It is becoming harder to locate events accurately in time. Was it yesterday, or the day before that I spoke to my friend? Was it last Sunday we went for that walk or the Sunday before? With days where not that much happens and not that much is different it is harder to hold on to time in our usual way of pinning it to events and activities. Without those things time is receding into its more slippery form and we no longer have a handle on it. Perhaps we never did.

Our perception of time is tied to our current place in time and space and we carve it up and allocate it according to our reference points that are influenced by earning money, making the most of our leisure, technology and the way we are living our lives at the moment. That was different to the past and it is different from the way people will live in the future. So it follows that our perception of time is relative. Maybe right now we are in UK Pandemic Time? Going back the the elder who said it is us that are slowing down, I feel like this may be true of my own current take on time. Perhaps I have relaxed into a slower pace and relinquished some of my usual tempo as a certain amount of time has in fact opened up for me. (I am not spending extra time cycling all over Manchester to get to different projects for instance). However, as everything else seems to take at least three times longer than usual, this sets up a frustrating friction where I feel I don't have enough time to do all the things I want to do.

I am certainly looking forward to a quiet slower paced Christmas this year where time can flow as it wishes and I can sit back and take stock, reflect on this year and all of it's surprises and challenging moments.

'Over Wintering' is a term known to gardeners and wildlife lovers. It is the way organisms pass through or wait out the winter period. It is a season to conserve energy and return to our deepest parts. As we are all part of nature this over-wintering is needed by us too. Why would we think we are different? The 'R' words come to mind: relax, rest, recharge, renew, refresh... Maybe this is the way to recapture time - maybe if we follow the rhythm of the seasons then Time itself won't escape us in the same way?

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