By TMoM Team Member Anna Keller
“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” – Albert Einstein
I’m at an age where I keep forgetting how old I am. Quick math: I was born in August of 1985 and it’s February of 2023 so…yes, I’m currently 37. And yet, I don’t feel 37 — or, rather, I don’t feel like I assumed it might feel to be 37, 10 or so years ago. I still feel like me, just with more life experience under my belt and (thankfully) much more awareness of who I am. And meanwhile, time just keeps on moving…
I’ve been thinking a lot about time recently, and about time travel in particular. I realized that my favorite book (The Time Traveler’s Wife) and my favorite movie (About Time) are both rooted in time travel, and that got me thinking even more about time.
Mental Time Travel
I realized I love the idea of time travel so much because, even though time travel is sci fi, it’s also so very real. After all, we time travel constantly in our minds, moving backwards through memory and imagining the future and moving sideways, too — visualizing alternate realities that don’t actually exist but feel very real in their own way. A helpful parenting device for me is to mentally time travel with my children, which really helps me appreciate the here and now. This is especially true when the here and now is challenging. I might imagine that I’m spending time with 15-year-old Maggie, for example, and then come back to the 5-year-old, present day version of her with a new appreciation for the stage she’s in right in this moment.
And to add another interesting layer to the mix, I love when time feels like it overlaps. Those moments where I feel like the younger or older version of myself is passing me on the street, or sitting across from me at a table. We have an exchange, of sorts — we see each other and know each other in a way that feels tangible and profound and very, very real.
Become More Aware and Appreciative of Your Life
When I time travel, I find I’m much more acutely aware of my mortality in a way that feels healthy and grounding and motivating. Scientists at the University of Kentucky studied people who were instructed to think about their own death and found that those participants reported feeling happier and more fulfilled after the exercise. The scientists concluded, “death is a psychologically threatening fact, but when people contemplate it, apparently the automatic system begins to search for happy thoughts.”
The exercise reminds me that time is fleeting, that things change fast, and that I should do my best to make the most of this life — however much of it I have left. That “making the most of it” does not come without intent focus. It’s up to us to continue to show up and truly live our values as best we can.
I also appreciate time travel books and movies because the message tends to be around presence and hope. Generally, the key takeaway is that the protagonist doesn’t actually need time travel after all. Instead the real magic is living life the way it’s meant to be experienced. This is a reassuring concept since, you know, I can’t ACTUALLY time travel. (I know — shocker!) And so although those mental journeys I take feel real and relevant in their own way, I feel at peace with the fact that they can only happen inside my head and not in the world around me.
Envision Your Life at All Ages
As I think ahead to the years to come (and hopefully I have many, many more of them in front of me!), I can only imagine my mental time travel picking up. I’ll have more past experiences to travel back to, and I bet at a certain point my travel into the future will be more centered around a world without me in it — a world that includes my children and perhaps their children as they continue to learn and grow and connect.
So, today I’m 37. I’m also 12…and 89…and gone…and 4. All of it feels right, real, known, mysterious, exciting, and human. A distinct awareness of time IS uniquely human, in fact. It’s something I think we can use as a gift to squeeze as much love and connection and good intention as we can out of this life.
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