When You've Only Got Some Number of Years to Live

I bought a colorful Brian Andreas print from a boutique shop the other day. It’s a crazy line drawing of a woman holding a clock. The picture reads, “Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.”

The woman is holding a red and green balloon that says, “Stop.”

If you aren’t familiar with Brian Andreas’s work, you should be. His Story People capture the essence of everyday challenges that are crucial to being human. Each design is unique, interesting, and playful. And yet they also carry pithy, pivotal messages. The print I bought perfectly depicts the struggle I have with being human.

(What? You think I might have more than just one struggle? No, this is the one. If I figure this out, I’ll be golden. That’s why I bought the insightful piece of artwork so I can hang it on my wall, study it every day upon arising, and train my subconscious so in a few short weeks, I’ll be self-actualized.)

I have always been very aware of the impervious nature of time. It seems each year moves more quickly than the last. I hear other people say, as they wistfully watch their children head off to college, “If you think grammar school went by quickly, wait ’til high school!”

I’m not only sensitive to time moving too quickly with my own child. I also have some poor time-related habits myself. For example, I tend to be an age-rounder. To me, 27 is a round-up year, so at 27, I figured I might as well be 30. But then by the time I was 29, I’d been thinking I was 30 for so long that I had to carefully think about how old I was—I was inclined to say I was 31.

Never wanted to be surprised by 30, to have it come up around the corner when I wasn’t looking. So I just watched out for it long and hard, with binoculars.

This ridiculous sensitivity to time comes out in other ways. I hear myself constantly saying to my son, “We only have 10 minutes,” or “We need to leave early because I can’t be late,” or “We’ll read tonight if we have enough time,” or “C’mon, quick like a bunny!”

The sad thing is that at some point in his 11 years on the planet to date, he picked up the same lingo. So now he won’t just ask me to go play tennis—instead, he will say, “If we have enough time before dark can we go play?” or “Do I have time to have a snack before we go?”


Can you guess that I love Five for Fighting’s song “100 Years”? Glad to know I’m not the only one with this insane frame of mind. The lyrics include, “I’m 15 for a moment….22 for a moment….45 for a moment / The sea is high / And I’m heading into a crisis / Chasing the years of my life….Half the time goes by / Suddenly you’re wise / Another blink of an eye / 67 is gone / The sun is getting high / We’re moving on.

Cheery, huh?

I’ve been working on this time thing, though. I’m determined to break it before I hit 40 (or is that 41?).

Years ago, I participated in a conference call with a consultant from QuantumThink. I still remember the call because a central topic was how to “live beyond time”—to use chronological time as a tool rather than to have your life be driven by it. The idea was to start with a conscious knowing that we create our own experience using our thoughts about the world. If we focus on shifting our worldview, we don’t have to be so limited by our own paradigms.

So, regarding time, it’s not that we will ever physically have more than 24 hours in a day. It’s that we can start to shift our perception about how much time 24 hours truly is. It’s seeing each week, each day, each hour, as something that is expanding rather than something that is shrinking.

However, in reality, it’s very hard to shift our thoughts about something as fundamental as time. Our thoughts tend to get there before we do. But we can try to loosen our hold on these perceptions.

For many years, I held on to the idea (with a white-knuckle grip) that I never had enough time to write. I’d obsessively record in decimals on a sticky note how much time I spent writing, and mentally added up the hours (or lack thereof) over and over, agonizing about how I could find more time. And yet all the while, I was missing out on that time to write. Time was shrinking as fast as I could think about it.

Do you ever hear yourself saying, “I just need to carve out the time…”? Even these words assume we can only produce time by violently cutting it out of something—namely, our life. What about the possibility that time will expand for us if we stop obsessing about it so much?

I had a great vacation recently in the White Mountains with some friends, with long, lazy mornings and days stretching into an expansive week. I kept thinking, “Wow, it’s only Tuesday!” “How cool, it’s only Wednesday!” I think part of it was that we just allowed time to lengthen into the full possibility of what time wanted to be. We didn’t talk about how the days were disappearing before our eyes—we talked about how much fun we managed to have every single day.

Time is simply a tool for marking the passage of hours and days—it can’t be something that we are afraid of slipping through our fingers. Albert Einstein once said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” What a great concept. In reality, I wouldn’t want to be 27 and 37 at the same time! Would you?

In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Professor Horace Slughorn owns an hourglass with magical sand. This hourglass keeps time based on the intensity and depth of the conversation around it. How cool would that be? If I had such an hourglass, I would surely plant it next to a television during sitcoms. Time would suddenly slow to a graceful creep. Like Albus Dumbledore, I would then live to be at least 150 years old. Wouldn’t that be a true feat?