Years ago, a friend explained that the reason she was divorcing after fifteen years of marriage, which included grade-school-aged children, a dog, three sets of silverware, two mortgages, and one much-coveted snowmobile, was because they weren’t “farther along.”
Ever since hearing of that novel unit of measurement, I have lain it on a short stack of maps detailing where I’m traveling–as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, a mother, a writer. A great deal of self-quantification has occurred during these last forty-six weeks. (But who’s counting?) Isolation and boredom have yielded a series of intense inquiries about what sort of traveling partner I am and how “far along” I’ve gotten.
Add to that a birthday of some consequence, and the consistent conclusion I have drawn from each inquiry is: “I really thought we’d be farther along by this point.” And that ubiquitous conclusion is a humble recognition of loss. Across each category of relation, I’ve concluded “we should be farther along.” While tempted to end my analysis, to shrug it off by saying “it is what it is,” I couldn’t leave it alone.
Peeking behind the veiled language of “farther along,” I’ve realized that my failure to get “farther along” is nothing more than a poetic euphemism for “I have wasted my time.”
Time is the only human commodity that is measured equally regardless of demographics and biometrics.
Bring someone to mind. That someone has the same twenty-four hours as you do. That person may be sunbathing on a black, lava-sand beach drinking fresh pineapple juice; that person might be trapped in a prison cell reading the same beat-up paperback for the third time; that person might be chewing on the end of a pencil trying to wrap her mind around trigonometry: all of them blissfully distracted from the fact that as their countable breaths increase in number, their remaining heartbeats decrease.
Overwhelming in its simplicity is the flow of information encouraging us to save time: life-hack, “get from A to Z without hassle,” only DIY if you can’t get someone else to DFY. Basically, if there’s a way to sidestep the hard work, we want in. Each sales pitch a variation on the idea that time is fungible. “Think of the time you’ll save. Buy now, and you’ll get these exclusive, one-time-only bonuses.”
But time is measurable. Time is limited is the only axiom universally applicable to all human experience.
When I was a child, I thought, “I’m going to live to be one hundred years old.” Today, I’m fifty, which by my childhood prognostication means that today I’m halfway done with living.
But in the last fifty years, I’ve watched: children with diseases that will kill them before they finish grade-school, my dad dead from cancer two months shy of his 53rd birthday; a history of nations sacrificing young men to die in war; women living with their fatherless children below the poverty line. There are no guarantees as to length of life.
Today, I cannot predict whether I’m 50% into this experiment of life or 95%. If I presume that my life is half over and can easily reflect that I should be “farther along,” I’m left with a sadness infused with streaks of terror but balanced by a sliver of hope that I still have time to get “farther along.” However, if I presume that I, too, will be culled by cancer in fewer than three years, i.e., following in my dad’s footsteps, so to speak, the sadness is quickly overshadowed by a thoughtful agenda with bulleted items on how to get “farther along.” Now. Both thought experiments are flawed.
T.S. Eliot assured us in his poetic gift of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock that “There will be time, there will be time.” But I don’t believe him. There won’t be time, and there isn’t the “time” you think there is remaining in your life–or your parents’ lives, your spouse’s life, your friends’ lives, your children’s lives.
Time passes without our granting permission. The length of my road (of your road) is unknown. The only way to get “farther along” without going insane is to not reflect on the waste accumulated from past travels (that mindlessly squandered away your precious and truly irreplaceable “time”) but instead move along without expectation of miles-to-go, without hopes of the eventual outcome, without anticipation. If you can do all that, it might cause you to not ever wonder again: “Why aren’t we farther along?”