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The years shall run like rabbits

All I know is that the years – as W.H. Auden said – run like rabbits. And try as we might, we cannot conquer time. At least, in feeling that way, I know I’m not alone.

The years shall run like rabbits

Does time seem to be moving faster for you? If I tell you that something happened in 2008, does that seem like 10 years ago to you, or does it seem like just yesterday?

Of course, objectively, a second is always a second, a minute is always a minute. It doesn’t matter where on earth you are, or how wealthy you are – time moves at the same pace, relentlessly, everywhere.

On the other hand, subjectively speaking, time moves differently for different people. Several studies confirm what many of us already feel – as we age, time seems to move faster. In one study, 20-somethings and 70-somethings were asked to guess when a minute had passed. The younger people were able to guess with better accuracy, while time seemed to move faster for the older people.

I feel this. When I run into students I taught in the 1990s, I’m always shocked to see wrinkles and grey hair. For me, it was yesterday that these kids were listening to Green Day (new music!) and playing Starcraft (a new video game!) and yet – these kids have kids of their own in my son’s school.

In my mind’s eye, my own years in high school were yesterday. Yellowed photos tell a different story. Friends of mine are forever young – to borrow a lyric from an 80s song – and yet some of them are already gone. Every January, I’m shocked by the passage of yet another year – although when I was a kid, it seemed to take forever for Christmas to come.

How we see time
There are lots of theories about this. Some psychologists say that, because one day when we are seven years old is proportionately more of our life than it is when we are 70, subjectively a day will seem more important and thus move more slowly. Another theory is that, because as children we have more new events to look forward to – Christmas, our birthday, our driver’s license, our first kiss ­– we are always waiting, and anticipating, which slows down time for us.

Another psychological theory is that our emotional state plays a role in how we see time – if we’re happy, or excited, or sad, time moves more slowly. As we age – the theory goes – we experience fewer strong emotions and time whistles by us – slowing down only for great tragedy like the death of a loved one. Personally, I find the idea that we feel less as we age to be particularly depressing.

Brain scientists – neurologists and biochemists – have other theories. One theory is that our perception of time is affected by the levels of dopamine in our bodies, which fall as we age. This might explain why using dopamine-altering drugs like marijuana makes time move more slowly. 

Another theory says that because the information arriving from touch, sight and sound arrives at our brain at different speeds, and are processed by different parts of our brains, that the sensation of the passage of time may break down simply because our aging brains can’t manage all that sensory input.

There are two passages of scripture that talk about how God sees time. One is from Psalm 90: “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” 

Another is from 2 Peter: “Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 

Each seems to be saying that God doesn’t see time like we do at all – that he is outside it completely. On one hand, that’s comforting – it means that both my life and my distant ancestor’s life all feel immediate to him. On the other hand – aging and the swift passage of time is so central to our humanity, for God not to experience it – even though his Son did – feels like a challenge to the notion that God understands us fully.

All I know is that the years – as W.H. Auden said – run like rabbits. And try as we might, we cannot conquer time. At least, in feeling that way, I know I’m not alone.    

About the Author
The years shall run like rabbits

Lloyd Rang, Columnist

Lloyd Rang works in communications and is a member of Rehoboth CRC in Bowmanville.