In the fall, as the landscape withdraws into stark lines and the coming cold breathes brittle into my bones, I mourn time’s inevitable creep forward into darkness. In very ancient eras, time was endless, like a wheel, and therefore hopeful. Its circle of birth and death always led to rebirth as it marked the seasons, the years, and the generations. Then, as science ascended, time became a mathematical concept, merely a dimension, often depicted as an arrow unstoppably propelled into the future. Time was captured and stuffed into clocks to regulate our lives in factories and offices.
And so, time was also transformed in my own life. When I was a child, time was magic, a beloved friend who gave gifts at Christmas and birthdays and stretched out happy summer afternoons until I was too tired to play. Now, time has become simply the grid of each week’s over-burgeoning calendar page, keeping me up at night wondering how I will accomplish everything when morning comes too quickly.
Still, for over a hundred years, scientists have known that time really is a great mystery. How I experience time depends on factors such as my velocity and how close I am to a strong gravitational pull. Modern physics, with its oddly behaving quanta and space-time bending wormholes, has made real the possibility of time travel. Research I have read suggests that our bodies defy traditional concepts of time everyday when reacting to stimuli before the nervous system has a chance to relay its presence to the brain, as if it expected the impulse.
However thrilling this research may be, in everyday life, I still perceive my body as continually moving into the future that, each instant, becomes the present. Yet, my mind has always traveled in time, just as the research states is the real way of the world.
My most intense moment of mind time travel occurred when I happened upon the eighteenth century battlefield of Culloden in Scotland. There I found a marker on the spot where a clan with my mother’s name had stood to fight. Somehow, from the moment I stepped onto that field, I was drenched in the despair that had soaked the ground more than two hundred years earlier. Time’s constraints vanished as I walked in a fog of some odd kind of eternity that bound me for that afternoon to those who had perished on the soil under my feet. I did not see ghosts or hear the tramp of long-ago embattled feet, but that place was at the time in both past and present for me.
This more flowing, sometimes-forward-sometimes-backward, kind of time we occasionally experience in our minds is, to me, like a river. Many years ago I dreamed that I was sitting on a high hill with a dream-being, watching a river languidly wind its way through a valley. It was full of people swimming, not looking to the left or right or even behind them, just swimming forward. The dream-being told me that the river was time and that the landmarks on the shore measured the years. All I had to do to enter into the past or future was to dive in at the right place.
What if I while swimming, I stopped and hauled myself up from that river onto the bank? What if I thought of myself as a being not bound to any particular spot along the shore but one who could choose where to be in time? What if I tossed out all my time-based assumptions, such as how women my age should dress and behave? What if I could find the sense of intense relief I experienced in my dream when I left behind the pressures of the river’s currents for just a short while?
Perhaps I could stop fearing the end of my youth and celebrate the greater common sense and perspective that a longer memory has brought me. Recently, salespeople have twice given me “senior discounts,” assuming that I am older than I am. Doubling up on the moisturizer—my first inclination—wasn’t as helpful as thinking, instead, of all the experiences that taught me how to make my life easier. It’s entirely possible that the salespeople glimpsed a bit of the wise woman in me.
Maybe, too, I can bring what feels comfortable and fascinating from other times into my own life without apology, without feeling as if I should embrace only that which is twenty-first century. Over the years, I have come to feel a deep connection to the spirituality I see in the art of the Paleolithic era. I never tell anyone I feel anything other than an archeological interest in these cave paintings, statues, and other representational objects. Yet I love the pure, direct, and essential relationship to a creating, life-loving, deeply powerful source I sense in that spectacular art. The next time I have to identify my religion on some form, I will write “Paleolithic” and direct anyone who asks why to the nearest natural history museum.
However, no matter our view of time, I’ll eventually die as will my loved ones. I must face the fact that my time on Earth is not limitless no matter how much I may bounce around different eras in my mind. As I sat at my mother’s bedside at the moment of her death, I knew more positively than I have ever known any truth that love is eternal. At that instant, time became a beloved friend who had given us forty years together on this earth. Even though that period was over, I did not doubt we would be together outside of time’s grasp. Maybe it was only the shock of seeing her die, or perhaps a deep sense of denial, that freed me from the grief of absolute loss that day. Still, years later, I believe that at that instant I finally saw beyond the illusion of our everyday concept of time to its most profound reality.
In our daily lives, where our bodies live, time is that forward-moving arrow and also, in the freedom of our minds, a gently flowing river. But, in our hearts and souls, time is a living being who gives great gifts that also require heart-wrenching sacrifice. The great goddesses of time—Durga, Kali, Cerridwen, etc.—are often shown dancing the world into and out of being. This makes sense because time is made of rhythm, whether the oscillations of crystal in our watches, or the swinging of a pendulum, or the circling of the planets around the sun making days, nights, and years. I like to think of time as a partner with whom I celebrate all that life has to offer.
From now on I will not perceive of myself as plodding along, walking or swimming, relentlessly moving from past to present to future, but as someone who dances with time. I will join her of my free will so that I can live on this glorious planet Earth. At some moments, the dance will be joyful, and I will jump back and forth from delight to delight. Other times the dance will be slower, in sorrow, or amazement, or in quiet enjoyment of a moment. Sometimes I will lead time and sometimes it will lead me. But always, in this life, and in past and future lives, I will dance. Will you dance with us?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Author’s Bio: CAROLYN LEE BOYD is a New Englander who writes fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and memoirs celebrating the spirituality and creativity in women’s everyday lives. Over the past three decades, she has published in women’s and feminist literary, art, and spirituality magazines, both in print and online. You may read her occasional musings and published writings, as well as download a free copy of her new novel, at her blog, Goddess in a Teapot. You are invited to contact her through her blog’s contact page.