I have been thinking about the concept of time a bit recently. Even though we get exposed to it from an early age, it is not an easy concept to internalize. While I am still learning what time really is, I understood it a bit better after my mother fell victim to cancer. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean by understanding time.
I implemented a few systems in the past and although my work was done in months, the result of my work has remained in use for many years. In some cases, the system manager has spent the last decade working with the result of what I created in months. If we translate that time into a new unit called “lifetime” (1 lifetime = 80 years), s/he has spent 1/8th lifetime with something I created in 0.00625 lifetime. To parallel this, a senator can make enough changes in 0.025 lifetime to affect 4 lifetime or more. Multiply that by the number of people affected and you have the true impact of a change. Time is the key ingredient that every life shares on this earth.
While driving around a few days ago, an old colonial house caught my eye. I think it was built sometime in the mid-19th century. How many children has that house seen? How many happy and unhappy couples have lived in it? I wonder if hundred eighty years from now someone will similarly wonder what we must have gone through when building our house. They would have no idea how we thought through every last detail. They would have discussions about our intentions. What if the third owner abused this house and the fourth owner added a new room and got an electrician to rewire the whole house. Would the fifth owner even be able to see beyond the two prior owners? Would the electrician consider the impact of his work on generations and families? Would anything remain from our original design? Would they question our intentions? Would they be slaves to the house or would they make the house a slave to them? Sometimes I see America as that house from years gone by.
A 30-year mortgage is paid off in 37.5% of 1 lifetime. First 25% of 1 lifetime is spent in early basic education. 33% of 1 lifetime is spent sleeping. These affected me much less when I thought lifetime was an eternity. We often hear that what we are about to decide depends on our time horizon. Or we hear that we have plenty of time to get to something. Or we have warranties or guarantees for life (whose life?). Any time a comment is made about time, I convert it into this new unit called lifetime and get a different perspective of the issue.
On the opposite end of a lifetime, we find seconds (milliseconds, microseconds…). Our brains can detect delays of microseconds to localize sound in space (triangulate the location of the sound based on the distance between our two ears). It takes little time for us to respond to someone else. Although the brain can process at such amazing speeds, that does not mean we always avoid making mistakes of a lifetime in a split second? Why is it sometimes difficult for us to insert a time lag between stimulus and response when needed and respond immediately in situations requiring quick action? It takes a second to ruin trust built over a lifetime (consider the recent financial criminal’s split second decisions converted to lifetime impact on victims). On the scale of eternity (or from God’s perspective) 1 lifetime is only a microsecond but that we cannot understand. Second by second, we must fill up our lifetime with the choices we make.
There is a lot to talk about when it comes to time but one more point for now is reference to it in analysis. How long is a century and can we really understand what it represents if we haven’t experienced it? Or when we hear that something has a particular attribute (“Joe is a nice guy.”, “Toyota makes good cars.”, “Lehman is a solid company.”), do we remember the time dimension? How long has this been the case? How has the definition of the attribute changed over time? Based on these changes over time, is the initial statement still valid? It was fascinating to hear all kinds of analysis and predictions flying around about presidential elections not too long ago based on past elections. It is also funny to hear all kinds of predictions about the current recession, the prices of gold, and the status of the dollar as a reserve currency.
Time is that constant companion of ours that either gets no attention or the wrong attention. Perhaps our perspective, our decisions and, as a result, our lives would improve from a simple recognition of the place of everything along that critical time dimension. I’ll finish with a quote from Ecclesiastes 3:
“1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. “