How long is six months? Well, obviously, logically speaking it is simple math. But we have philosophy to consider, and that just messes everything up.
Six months is, in this case, 182 days, or 4368 hours. I can prove this; I counted. But it is not how I have perceived these six months. When a child moves from one year to eighteen months old, we are excited by the new date: “He is eighteen months old today!” we exclaim to questioning gawkers. But at fifty-five I don’t say, “Well, actually I’m fifty-five and a half today.” Six months means so much more on the edges of life than it does in the middle.
When I am entirely in the moment–focused and engaged–time is irrelevant. I couldn’t tell you if an hour passed or a week. It is only when I think about it that the laws of relativity engage. I would like a life where I remain completely in each moment. My “String Theory” is to have a string of those moments, from cradle to grave. If you think about it, though, you can’t do it. Perception is an unfriendly conspirator in linear time.
It was a Wednesday night, six months ago, about eight thirty, and I just had finished teaching creative writing. The winter which passed since that Wednesday seemed to be milder than previous years. There were some cold days, and I remember a stretch in January when we needed to let the faucet drip upstairs, but mostly it was fine, the ground never too frozen.
And now looking around, it occurs to me the trees are not much different now than they were six months ago, the borders of two seasons, one going and one coming back, separated by mostly bare branches and plowed fields. Even the fairways at the golf course are the same half-brown, half-green as back then; this time the green is on the way in instead of on the way out, and life is returning in the rough. October and April are first cousins.
Six months in my professional world is more than one entire semester, which collegiately is akin to a completed project. We start, we meet everyone, we develop relationships, we advise and have meetings, grade and test, encourage and withdraw, come to a climax of exams and projects culminating in final grades and, for some, graduation; and then we start again—all within six months.
Excuse me for this but I “wikied” Time. Here’s what it said: “Time is the indefinite continued progression of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.”
As usual, Wikipedia is only partly right. That’s a fine explanation of linear time. Thanks. But it doesn’t account for emotion or recollection. I’m talking about perception. I learned much about our perception of time just by spending some with my father. A round of golf, for instance, went much faster when we played well than when we didn’t. Watching baseball games on television wasn’t unlike being held hostage; they seemed to last so long. But when we showed up at Shea, the game passed in minutes. And two fingers of Scotch can somehow simultaneously last forever and disappear without noticing. It all depends, and that is what’s cool about time–it is much less scientific than it appears.
“All our sweetest hours fly fastest,” wrote Virgil. No kidding.
I didn’t see someone for twenty-three years and then one day I did, and it was as if no time at all had passed. This morning I spoke to a colleague and I thought I aged a decade just standing there. Perception.
If someone gives up cigarettes or alcohol for six months, it is a major achievement.
If someone has a new job for six months he or she is still suspect.
And in love: “They only knew each other six months” is diametrically opposed to “You mean you’ve not spoken for six months?!”
Six months isn’t always six months. Sometimes measurement is pointless.
The Mets won the National League pennant that night, 182 days ago, that Wednesday. Six months later we are well into the opening month of the baseball season, which six months from now will be over and we will have a new World Series champion. The half year to the next World Series seems so much further away than the six months since the last one, or is that just me?
It was 76 degrees that day with an evening low of 45. Fall was holding off as long as possible. I taught creative writing that night, finishing about eight-thirty.
A student commented it was too early to end, and I agreed, then left.
A doctor I know said the passing of time is also relative to experience. For an elderly person whose schedule has changed drastically due to retirement, less sleep, fewer or more frequent visits from friends or family, the perception of time fluctuates. If someone needs to use the bathroom more often, to that person it is not understood to be more frequent but instead the “time between trips to the bathroom” passed so much faster. If someone’s eyesight is diminishing along with slower brain function, it isn’t the eyes that have trouble with twilight, but how much faster night arrived than it used to.
Add to that the absolute reality that when we miss someone it seems so much longer since we have seen him. It is all perception. That’s what sucks about time: as an objective process it is relatively persistent and dependable. Relentless, in fact. I can tell you the definitive truth about how long it will take for six months to pass. But I can’t begin to measure what it will feel like.
Why does six months from now seem so much further away than six months ago? I suppose time recedes quicker than it approaches. Anticipation has a lot to do with that, and regret. They so work against each other. “I wish I could have” implies something happened, still fresh and recent, and we missed the chance to say or do or try something. However, “I can’t wait until” implies some event seems like it will never get here.
Maybe time isn’t linear after all. We can manipulate time by recalling just the right moment, smelling some fragrance, hearing the right song—they bring us right back, right there. You can’t slap that into an equation. Measuring how we experience time means allowing for some x-factor, be it love, or fear, or loss, which renders the numbers pointless.
Six months? It was yesterday. It was a lifetime ago.
“The secret of life is enjoying the passing of time” –James Taylor