First released in 1965 the long-standing TV soap opera, Days of Our Lives, is set in the imaginary midwestern town of Salem where it follows the lives, loves, triumphs, and tragedies of some of its citizens. Each episode begins with the picture of an hourglass overlayed with the familiar and poetically spoken words “Like sand through the hourglass…so are the days of our lives.”
The dictionary provides a scientific definition of time as “an ongoing and continuous sequence of events that occur in succession from past through the present, and into the future (called the ‘arrow of time’). Time is used to quantify, measure, or compare the duration of events or the intervals between them and even, sequence events.”
The definition gets somewhat confusing thanks to Albert Einstein. He demonstrated that the faster we go, the slower time passes. Time is intrinsically flexible. If Einstein could have hopped on a spaceship traveling at 99% of the speed of light when he was born and not return until today, he would be 17 years old. He concluded there is no one present moment that is the same for everyone. Time is relative depending on the observer. This whole thought blows my mind. However, it is still true that no matter how fast or slow time goes, we only live in our personal “now.”
There is a popular cliché that says “live in the moment.” This phrase is self-evident because we obviously only live in the moment, the now. There are some questions that arise when we examine our experience of now: How short or long is now? Is it a second, a half second, a nanosecond, half a nanosecond? Can now be divided in half forever and is therefore infinitely divisible? If so, is there always a now? If now is all any of us experience, is it outside the scientific definition of linear time? Outside the hourglass? Is the “now” eternal?
He who binds to himself a joy
does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
lives in eternity’s sunrise.
– William Blake
The future is nothing but a dream, a wish, or perhaps a fear until an event becomes present and then immediately it is a memory that can only be remembered in the now. The future can guide what we do in the present to make our hopes a reality. And the past can inform, influence, or even determine our current situation. But neither is “now.”
As we age time is “no longer what it used to be.” It is not unusual to hear seniors’ comment: “Have you noticed how much faster time seems to go by these days?”
As the sand runs down in the hourglass, the question of life after death comes to the fore. What happens when the sand runs out? Often there is confusion over the meaning of the words “forever” and “eternity.” Forever is a duration of time that never ends. Eternity is better understood as an “eternal now.” The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus was the first to observe in writing that “you don’t step into the same river twice.” The natural world is in continual flow and change. We all experience this every day. And yet, Heraclitus pointed out, underlying all movement is a subtle sameness (an eternity?) that we experience as “now.” We all live in the paradox of change(time) and consistency (now).
And William Blake continues:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
The “now” gains more influence as we age. At the same time there is an end in sight that is generally ignored when we are younger. As we age, we are influenced more by our anticipated short future while being acutely aware we remain in the “now.” The now becomes dominant and irreplaceable when shared with people we love. Time can fly by or slow down, but in either case, there is always “now.” Sometimes now in on our side, and other times it is our enemy.
What can we do with our time? Can we kiss the joy and see heaven in a wild flower? There are choices to be made in each moment. We know these choices are ours alone to make regardless of our life history that brought us to this moment. To again quote Heraclitus: “The character of a man is his guiding spirit.” We can:
(1) Reflect or forget
(2) Meditate or overactive
(3) Forgive or condemn
(4) Explore or be bored
(5) Love or reject
(6) Thankful or critical
(7) Kind or self-centered
(8) Smile or frown
We decide our attitude toward others and ourselves each moment. The power and influence of these decisions determines the quality of our senior years that are spent in the wonder and mystery of now.
Confusing as time is and how little we understand it, we can still smell the roses, take time to love and be kind, and be grateful such sacred moments are attainable in the now. There is joy to be found in the moment where time is lost and we experience a sense of the eternal.
Written by: Hartzell Cobbs
Hartzell Cobbs is the retired CEO of Mountain States Group (now Jannus, Inc.), a diverse nonprofit human service organization.
Now Available: THE MOON at the WINDOW
***All royalties from “The Moon at the Window” go to support the work of Smart Strategies for Successful Living.
About the Author: With a sprinkling of exuberance and vitality, Dr. Cobbs is an accomplished author of three books and numerous articles published in different venues throughout his life. Dr. Cobbs’ first book, Thanatos and the Sage: A spiritual approach to Aging (2008), offers a thought-provoking interpretation of the interplay between how to live life with meaningful intentions and the eventuality of coming to terms with death. His second book, Ravenwind (2019) delves into the raven’s role as it relates to Native American myths, legends, and folktales and global history. His reflections on the spirituality of living and dying depicted in his books are threaded throughout the short essays posted on the website for “Smart Strategies for Successful Living” and in his latest book, The Moon at the Window.
Smart Strategies for Successful Living provides an international format for writers to share research, thoughts, and experiences on aging well. One of our writers, Hartzell Cobbs, has compiled and edited articles from the past four years and put them in book form. “The book reveals the thoughts and emotions old age has dealt me” says Hartzell. “I have been surprised by how many aging people have similar experiences to my own.” The book has its genesis in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, and concludes with reflections in the silence of the Arizona desert.
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On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a special thanks goes to Hartzell Cobbs for his brilliant works as a guest writer and for donating the book royalties from “The Moon at the Window” to us. We greatly treasure his talents and generous support of our website.