The Relentless March of Time

Yesterday afternoon at the gym, I asked a strapping teenager if he had finished his reps on one of the torture machines. He replied, “Yes sir, it’s all yours,” and we struck up a conversation.

He was an impressive young buck — engaging smile, articulate, polite, and respectfully humble yet youthfully assured. I’d seen him and his buddies hitting the weights throughout several afternoons, and he confirmed what I’d observed — i.e., they were members of the local high school football team.

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Complimenting his gym work ethic, I inquired about his age, to which he replied, “17.” Barely suppressing a harrumph and grin, I responded that I was “precisely half a century older” than he. Clearly stymied by my observation, the student-athlete couldn’t quite stifle his “wow,” sans exclamation point. To his credit and after a pause to ruminate, he sidestepped my comment and told me that I worked pretty hard in the gym. I assume he was implying “for an old guy.”

Fifty years. Unreal. How is it possible that five decades have passed since my high-school days? This exchange — and my upcoming 50-year high school reunion — got me thinking about time.

(Sidebar: If you’re interested, check out at the conclusion of this blog a few things that were going on 50 years ago when I was the young, impressionable high school lad getting after it in the gym.)

Time will never be absolute

Time is a peculiar concept. And it’s a relative phenomenon, too, which means that the rate at which time passes depends on your frame of reference.

For example, had I a similar gym encounter in 1973 with a geezer my current age, his recollections might include something about President Calvin Coolidge, the first issue of Time being published, the opening of The House That Ruth Built (Yankee Stadium), and Walt and Roy Disney starting their little business. At that moment, the stock market crash and Great Depression were still six years in the offing, and WWII was nearly 20 years in the future.

I’m a Baby Boomer. We Boomers are now taking our place as grandparents to the Millennials and Gen Z. How’s that for time being relative (pun intended)?

Time and life are about change, for better or worse

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For the most part, we don’t consciously noodle on the subject of time because we’re so consumed with living life. However, as time passes, we certainly comprehend what “time marching on” feels like. Our present becomes our past as soon as it’s happened. Today turns into yesterday, seemingly in the blink of an eye.

In march step with time’s inevitable progression, we inescapably and irrevocably change. Sensitivities, perceptions, awareness and views evolve. Priorities shift. In one form or another, we come to personally know defeat, suffering, struggle, anxiety and regrets. Trusts are gained and broken. Folks depart. The heart and the mind never forget some things or some people, but without fail, other memories fade. Hopefully, love in its many miraculous forms is given and received throughout one’s odyssey.

As one of my favorite troubadours notes about time and life, “Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic.” (“He Went To Paris” by Jimmy Buffett.)

Yearning for more

No matter where we are in our journey, we always seem to need — or at least want — more time. There isn’t a soul who has walked this earth who hasn’t craved more time.

That yearning, in practicality, doesn’t make a hill-of-beans sense. While time is the only true capital we have, it’s the one thing you can’t stockpile and get back. We move stuff around to theoretically create more opportunities to get to “stuff,” but we’re not really making more time because, in the blink of an eye, it’s gone forever.

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If you’ve never read anything by Mitch Albom, put doing so on your to-do list. I first became aware of Albom as a sportswriter with the Detroit Free Press. He later turned to writing inspirational stories and themes that weave through his outstanding books (e.g., Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Have a Little Faith), plays and films. In The Time Keeper, he knocks it out of the park in his assessment of time:

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”

Lesson learned? How about … When you are so caught up in measuring life, you are not living it.

Yet time is amazingly fair and forgiving. For the most part, we all have a tomorrow. And today is always right there to seize.

Lessons learned over 50 years

As I’ve gotten along in years, I’ve learned a few things about time, the major ones being: 1) that we have tomorrows for a reason; 2) that life truly is finite; and 3) that a life well lived includes sprinkling a healthy dose of kindness and gratefulness along the way.

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I definitely look at time differently than when I was young. I’m less likely to waste time with people (especially “ugly” individuals), activities, or pursuits that aren’t worthwhile. More narrowly, I recognize that I spent too much of my younger self worrying about what other people thought and not enough time believing in and striving for possibilities. Too often, I fell victim to peer pressure.

As I suspect it is the case with everyone, I survived a lot of judgment — from others and from myself. While I cherish some excellent mentors along the way, I realize now that a good bit of what folks thought about me and what I should be doing was about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

I’m more clever, more intelligent (or at least more competent), and have a greater sense of acceptance of self and others here 50 years later. Time on life’s treadmill has delivered a heightened level of horse sense and poise. I’ve learned that life experiences enhance one’s perspective, wisdom and empathy.

Fifty years post-high school, I realize that FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) isn’t much important. I’ve learned that proper behavior generally follows if you stick to a moral path, and that an elevated journey also means stop worrying about keeping up with the Joneses and instead focus on what makes you happy, including spending quality time with loved ones.

I’ve also discovered that you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for complete fulfillment or a perfect path. Time and life don’t work that way.

Brilliant, eh? But these are lessons learned only with time.

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How did it get so late so soon

As far as I can tell, my former high-school classmates generally juggle fewer “overwhelming” responsibilities and “inescapable” obligations. We Boomers have more time for previously neglected interests and pursuits. Confidence learned and earned over the years often unleashes the freedom to speak our minds. I suspect that this comes from caring less about what other people think and knowing that life is short. And, Lordy, are we Boomers available to share our wisdom and tell our stories!

Of course, I definitely feel the effects of time. It doesn’t seem fair that as one’s mind sharpens and cares fade, your body lets you know that you might just be getting old. Time doesn’t stand still, but I often prefer to do so. I agree with Toby Keith (another terrific country balladeer) that you ain’t as good as you once were, but hopefully you’re as good once as you ever were.

Gee, ain’t it funny … how time slips away

While time advances quicker than pages turn in a cliffhanger, I believe that ol’ Billy Shakespeare (Class of 1581) was correct when he noted, “Past is prologue.” History sets the context for the present, which I translate as you are right where you are supposed to be.

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I wish I could sit that young man in the gym down and tell him that he’s got the helm every day. That what he believes is paramount today may not be what’s essential. That life is too short to spend it in a hurry, and to slow down and enjoy the moments.

I’d tell him that in a world that travels far too fast, be yourself and always be kind. Take advantage of every minute you have because it truly is here today and gone tomorrow. And to cherish the journey’s unforgettable memories, family, strong friendships, and loves that will come in and out of his life.

The time is now. It always has been and always will be. I pray that you use it wisely regardless of where you are on the timeline of your life.

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Addendum from LSomerbyCooke …

Not wholly trusting my recollections, I spent some time (there’s that word again … ) with the googles, confirming my recall of 1973, my senior year in high school.

In 1973, our wallets knew that:

  • A first-class stamp cost 8 cents.
  • A gallon of milk was $1.40, eggs were 69 cents a dozen, and a package of Oreos was 59 cents.
  • The average price for a gallon of gasoline was 39 cents. The following year, it skyrocketed to 53 cents, generating long lines, panic buying, and fill-ups on certain days tied to license plates with odd or even numbers.
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    The average cost of a home was $32,500.

  • You could buy a new car for $3,200.
  • The average family income was a shade more than $12,000.
  • A Big Mac cost 65 cents. A Quarter-Pounder with cheese was 70 cents. Ironically enough, the closing price for a single share of McDonald’s (MCD) stock on December 31, 1973, was $0.70.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the year at 924.

In 1973, our headlines included:

  • The Watergate scandal.
  • The United States ended its involvement in the Vietnam War by signing the Paris Peace Accords.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on Roe v. Wade.
  • Richard “I Am Not A Crook” Nixon was President of the United States, at least until October when Spiro Agnew stepped up, who, in turn, also stepped down in December for pinch-hitter Gerald Ford.
  • The World Trade Center officially opened in New York City.
  • CBS sold the New York Yankees to a 12-person syndicate led by George Steinbrenner for $10 million.

Lastly, in 1973, our remembrances included:

  • Bell-bottom pants, hip huggers, tie-dye t-shirts, afros, long hair, and muttonchops dominated the style scene.
  • Motorola engineer Martin Cooper invented the first handheld cordless phone … which weighed 2 1/2 pounds.
  • Elvis Presley’s concert in Hawaii was the first worldwide telecast by an entertainer. It was watched by more people than the Apollo moon landing.
  • Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees was the first designated hitter in Major League Baseball.
  • Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” televised tennis match.
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    The last episode of Laugh-In aired on NBC.

  • The film American Graffiti was released.
  • In ranking order, the top five most popular television shows were: All in the Family, The Waltons, Sanford and Son, M*A*S*H, and Hawaii Five-O. CBS aired four out of the top five.
  • The top songs were “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” (Tony Orlando and Dawn), “Killing Me Softly ” (Robert Flack), “You’re So Vain” (Carly Simon), “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” (Stevie Wonder), “Crocodile Rock” (Elton John), “Let’s Get it On” (Marvin Gaye), and “My Love” (Paul McCartney & Wings).

Whoosh! Five decades! Gone! Swift fly the years, indeed.  As noted above, this year marks one of those milestone reunions for members of my high school graduating class and me. I look forward to going down “memory lane” with my former schoolmates, renewing old friendships, and revealing how time has developed our own particular versions of wisdom and maturity, both of which were generally in short supply 50 years ago.