The announcer at Leyton Orient tells us how many additional minutes are to be played at the end of each half of a match, and he also tells us that they are sponsored by the local newspaper. I’ve always found this slightly strange. Can you see time? Or feel, smell or hear it? Where is the sponsor’s logo displayed? Do they pay more for the sponsorship if there is more stoppage time? Do they get their money back if there is none?
What exactly is time, anyway? I use the Free Dictionary app on my iPad, so I looked it up for help with this question. It gave me:
A nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.
Er, yes alright! There were several other definitions, most of which didn’t have big words in them, and they gave variations on the abstractness of time as a concept. It relates to history, for example. It can be a limiting factor when used as a measure of the period available for something, such as a football match or a school exam. It can be an interval, or an instance: e.g. in ‘knock three times.’ And here in the UK the word is often used as a shout by landlords marking the end of the day’s drinking hours in a pub.
So, having been slightly better informed – not to mention befuddled – I began thinking about what time has come to stand for. We use it in phrases such as ‘time is of the essence’ or ‘time flies when you’re enjoying yourself,’ which between them suggest both time being a target and a source of pleasure. There are thousands of quotations about time, but I’ll spare you most of them. As far as I can tell it was Alexandre Dumas who first used this simile:
Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana (ok, maybe only half of that)
and in using the arrow concept he underscores how direct time’s movement is. This is perhaps a partial explanation for why we complain that we never have enough time: the arrow moves too quickly for us. But da Vinci thought otherwise:
Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.
So that’s the excuse blown! The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu would have agreed with him:
Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time’ is like saying ‘I don’t want to.’
We often use the phrase ‘making time’ to do something or for someone, but as it is, to me, an abstract idea how can that, or Lao Tzu, be right? How can time be created? As I get older I tend to use time as a reference point: it marks kick off time so that I know when I must be at the stadium, and it gives me the foundation of my personal history. I can relate to how long has passed since something happened – usually with a mix of shock and horror! – and can in some way project that into the future when thinking what I might do with MY time.
Time may be a somewhat nebulous concept, to me at least, but it needs to be precise in the timekeeping sense. It may be something which moves inexorably forwards but at any given moment it belongs to us each in our own way. So, in reality, isn’t it different for each of us? Perhaps the only thing common to all of us is that we should use our time as best we can, however that may be for each of us. And maybe we should share it with others – OUR time is precious to us all, so can there be a more meaningful thing to do for someone than to give them some of it?
PS I know this has been a random jumble of thoughts and I admire you for getting this far! I was just committing to the ether some further thoughts I had after yesterday’s post, for which I see this as a companion piece.