Time and Toilet Paper Rolls

Time passes ever more quickly. At one point, listening to my parents’ stories I thought, “Surely, pausing to remember something that happened twenty years earlier is a mark of getting old.”

My mother was fifty and I regarded her as “old” when my daughter – her first grandchild – was born. I was fifty when my first grandchild was born. I was on the threshold of redefining myself and my life. I certainly didn’t feel old. Did my children regard me that way?

One of my favorite cartoons is from the Pickles comic strip by Brian Crane, about an elderly [what does that mean?] retired couple. One comments to the other that time is like a toilet paper roll – it goes faster toward the end. How profound is that!

A year to a six-year-old is one-sixth of his life. A year to a sixty-year-old is one-sixtieth. It’s relatively much shorter. The equivalent one-sixtieth span for the six-year-old would be just over a month – interminably long if it’s the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or impossibly short if it’s the last month of summer vacation.

Time warps our perspective of importance. A twenty-year-old may regard something as a crisis. To a forty-year-old, that same something may be just another part of a life full of demands. “Just tell it to wait in line with the other somethings. I’ll get to it eventually.” Priorities shift.

We spend much of our youth waiting or wishing to be older: waiting for that phone call, waiting for summer, ticking off months of a pregnancy. We’re immortal. Time has no meaning in the larger scheme of things. Perhaps we have so much time then because we wish so much of it away.

At the other end of the scale, after we become aware of our mortality, time wears a different cloak. People we have known are now dead – fellow immortals from high school, coworkers, children and parents. Death stalks us like prey on the savannah. The poignancy of each moment resonates deep within. It will never come again. Each day is a gift to be treasured, each blooming flower a window into the nature of Creation.

We become concerned about our legacy. When we sigh our inevitable last breath, what will live on after us? Which of the stories we have told – recounted from twenty or more years earlier – will be remembered? What gifts and challenges will we leave behind? Were we able to heal some of the old family wounds, or did we create new ones, or both? Will those left behind have any idea what it was like to live the life that just passed?

These are musings from the other end of the road. We look back and love, understand, forgive, cherish, and hope that those who come after us will do the same.

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"Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." - George Eliot
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Gandhi
"There is little that separates humans from other sentient beings – we all feel pain, we all feel joy, we all deeply crave to be alive and live freely, and we all share this planet together." - attributed to Gandhi
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