Thursday, March 02, 2006

Time and what we make of it



Robert Leslie Fielding

  “What time is it?” – the question we all ask ourselves and each other many times every day.  Few people go out without some means of answering that question – most have watches, but mobile phones also display the time accurately.  Lives revolve around the time of day.  

Farmers – people who look after animals, are perhaps less dependent on exact time, more on time indicated by the rising of the sun, and on time in its wider sense – in the months of the year and the seasons.

The rest of us – tied to office desks, machinery, and bus timetables, have to know the time to the nearest minute – sometimes nearer than that.

But time in the sense of the years lived and experienced also affects our lives – in ways we are probably not always aware of.

The passing of the beginning of the new millennium, for instance, means that when we want to refer to a time in the 19s, we are forced to say something like “in the last century”, when in fact that century still holds most of us in its grip.  Most of us were born in that century, grew up in it, got educated in it, got married in it, had our children in it and saw the greatest changes in the world in it too.  Yet it is the last century, not this present one, and that word ‘last’ sounds odd.

Before January 1 2000, the last century really was the last – one that none of us lived through- one that seemed remote from our lives – the ‘Victorian era’, with all the connotations of meaning that that phrase holds for us.

I was born in the first half of the last century – in 1949, which makes me sound ancient in 2006.  My formative years were the 50s and 60s – they also sound very dated nowadays.  As a middle aged man, I use as anchors to hook the rest of my life on events like my graduation day and the day I got married.  My father used more cataclysmic anchors like the beginning and end of World War 2, and his return home from overseas.  

The remoteness of something that happened before I was born – the 2nd World War, is equaled by two relatively minor events that happened in the late 70s – central for me – distant for others.

People talk of the ‘generation gap’, and at times it seems unbridgeable – too wide to ever be overcome.  In your teens, somebody over 30 seems ancient – old fashioned – past it – no longer with it – whatever phrase is used in the modern idiom.

Only a look at history books puts all of this into any perspective that can be shared – we all live in the modern era – the age of the information superhighway – the constant threat of terrorism – of the AIDS pandemic – of drug abuse – war – global capital – we all live in the same age.  How we refer to our lives now seems to have less relevance than how we see our future.

Again though, the generation gap kicks in.  To people older than say 60, this world is a puzzle – one that will go on its way without the need for them to become involved or worry about the outcome.  For people who still have a stake in it, but who have their feet firmly rooted in the last century, there is still much to be done.  For the young – people born in the last quarter of the 20th Century or the early part of this one, life is out there – to change, to adapt and to adapt to.  The 21st Century is truly theirs.  Although they won’t see its end, they will live though more than half of it.

And when they reach the time when the main direction to look is back, they too will feel that the young have a different outlook.  

In these terms, nothing changes – babies come into the world – old people leave it.  For the time that we share together on it, we are all part of a chain – a human chain, that passes from the newly arrived to those about to depart, and as the strength of a chain is its weakest link, we all benefit from being stronger – healthier – saner – and more willing to consider each other as links in the same chain than anything as divisive as young and old.  
Robert L. Fielding


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