I have a big problem with Time.
Time and I do not get along.
For one thing, it always insists on going much too fast, even when I scream at it to slow down, which generally only makes it go even more quickly, because Time, like an irritated toddler, is vindictive like that.
It also has a habit of making the days blur together, into a shapeless, unending dream, without a tail or an end. It makes it feel as though nothing is real, our lives just memories inside our heads, moments leaping over one another like a colony frogs, always forging ahead before you can catch one of them.
I want to put my head out of the train hurtling down the tracks, and say “Stop! Stop! Stop now, or I shall tear out my own liver!” just to jolt Time into letting me have a moment to breathe, a little temporal nullity where I can just do nothing, just hang there, in some white, glowing emptiness, breathing in, breathing out, safe in the knowledge that life will only start when I return to it.
There’s no “pause” button to life, is what I’m saying. In real life, you can’t take breaks—at least not without suffering for it. In real life, taking breaks, procrastinating, putting off the things that truly matter, lead to guilt, despair, self-hatred, and the overwhelming fear of not accomplishing the things you must before you die. At least, it does for me, and my anxious brain.
I’m so frightened all the time. My heart is exhausted from the constant, high-tension anxiety flittering through it all day, and often all night, too, as the agitation often invades my dreams. That’s one of the joys of being neurotic: there’s always something to be deathly afraid of, always something to be worried about, death, destruction, loneliness, your health, your family, your future, the world, the suffering. And the knowledge of time multiplies all suffering, because it reminds us we have only so long to heal or rectify them, to soothe our souls and put balms to our wounds.
Even as I write this, I am frightened to death at how quickly Time is passing. All we have is the present moment, as they say, which means life is nothing more than unending series of different “presents”, which means that one day, I will look around at the room I’m standing in, or up at the sky, and I’ll be old, and I will have lived a life, nevermind whether it was a good one or not, and that will be my present, my new ordinary, an old body, an old mind—that is, if I’m lucky enough to reach that age (the thought of dying young also keeps me awake at night; the world is full of dangers, after all, and you can’t predict what may happen).
As a five-year-old, I remember, very clearly, trying to imagine myself as an adult, one of those great galumphing giants waltzing around the place who seemed to know everything, and failing miserably. And yet, well, here I am, and being an adult feels just as ordinary as being a kid. And that’s frightening, how easily the years creep up on us, how quickly we grow accustomed to new situations, new states, that supplant our old “normal”. I moved quite recently, but already it is beginning to feel as though I’ve lived here, in my new home, for all eternity, the old place just a distant memory. The present is a tiny eternity, life is eternities within eternities, and it’s scary, because it’s hard to wrap your head around, and it means one day your tiny eternity will be (again, if you’re lucky) lying old and aged in a bed, on the brink of leaving this kind of forever for a different one.
I think my all-encompassing anxiety, every little squirm and wriggle of my neuroses, from the fear of anything unsanitary to the fear of Time, comes down to, as it does for most humans, my fear of death. Why do I cringe hard enough to fold myself into myself whenever the toilet is flushed because I read somewhere that the flushing motion expels thousands of tiny particles of liquid waste from the toilet bowl up into the air, for instance? Apart from the fact that ingesting excrement isn’t a pleasant thought, I fear it because it is dirty, and I subconsciously fear dirt and uncleanliness because it has the potential to lead to disease and sickness, which can kill you. I fear Time because it will kill us all, in time. Our minds hate being alone and without affection because in the past, if we were by ourselves for too long, it meant we had been abandoned or banished by our tribe, and therefore would most likely die. Even my visceral disgust at eating meat is, in a certain way, related to my fear of death: I don’t want to eat flesh from a dead body, flesh that would be very similar to mine if I were to die and chunks of me placed into an oven to be cooked.
Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about death; it will arrive whether we scream or beg or cry or sigh or laugh or smile or bargain (unless your Voldemort, that is, but even he kicked the bucket eventually), which means, again unfortunately, at least for myself, that one must experience panic attacks and breakdowns until one is dead. However it also reminds us of how we need to concentrate on what we can control—how we spend our time when we are living—so as to die without the anxiety of knowing we did not do the things we wanted to do while we lived. You’ll be frightened out of your wits when you’re on your deathbed (if your faculties still remain sharp and strong enough to feel or understand anything, that is–I know, always the optimist, I am), I can guarantee you that, but accomplishing what you want and need to do in this lifetime will mean one tiny satisfaction to hold onto for comfort when the time comes to leave.
Nevertheless, if anyone by chance discovers how to stop Time like Molly Moon, I would be much appreciated if you dropped me a line. It needs a good telling-off, in my opinion, for running around without a care for anyone except himself.