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This question was sent to me by someone who read yesterday’s blog about new year’s resolutions and plans and prompted me to think about it. I have in fact been thinking about it over the years, but so here, at this point in time, is my take on it.
It is truly relative.
I had always wanted a writing career: my father brought back a pile of USA college calendars from one of his trips, while I was in matric (Grade 12). I poured over them for hours and hours. To my horror I discovered that a journalism degree would take four years. That was longer away from home than I could handle, so I never applied. It would’ve meant a quarter of my life, far away. Had I had the courage for those four years I’d have had first-hand experience of the Anti-Vietnam; civil rights; and feminist revolutions. But I didn’t because I couldn’t handle the time commitment, at the time.
When I was 18 and studying at the University of Cape Town, I fell in love with my brother’s best friend who was studying at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg: A thousand miles apart. It took a week for an airmail letter to travel between us. (Long distance phone calls were reserved for birthdays and death notices.) The only way I could deal with time was to write perpetually. Can’t say the same for him, but he wrote remarkably often. He sometimes made drawings on the airmail envelopes. My girlfriends in Baxter Hall would be all a-twitter whenever one arrived. Twittering invariably extended well beyond 140 characters.
When I was pregnant with my first child, and the gynaecologist (before we called them OBGYN) told me that the baby was overdue, and as my belly extended further and then suddenly one morning there was a topographical map of roads and rivers and small hills all over my bump (we didn’t call it that either, back then), I felt I was running out of time. How do you squeeze such an enormous baby out? Would I survive? Obviously I did. And the next one was way less daunting. 9 months also didn’t seem as long the second time round.
And now, as I sit on the fringes of 67, I can say I’ve learnt a few things about time. Such as, it is perfectly comfortable to talk to an older friend about death while we’re cozily sitting in her lovely cottage on the south shore where we had so many crazy weekend breaks and union parties when we were younger. My sense of time has shifted profoundly. I no longer have that compelling sense of urgency about things that don’t matter as much as I used to think they did. I believe I’ve become more patient. We both have a sense of death being a transition – a rite of passage. Doesn’t matter to what – we’ll find out when we get there. We’ll get there when it’s time.
Nowhere does my non-sense of time manifest itself more than when I’m on a journey. The trip will take as long as it will take. Once I’ve handed over my luggage to the airline and received my boarding pass my concern about time simply stops. I exist in the moment. I’m not in control of time or much of anything and it is a great relief. When I arrive at the other end, often crossing numerous time zones, people ask me how long the flight was, and I truly cannot answer. It was as long as it was. Here I am now. Oh, listen to the rustling of the wind in the palms – are those palm swifts swooping over our heads? That vivid first experience of Tanzania, after four years away, is far more real to me than the two flights and approximately 30 hours of travel.
And then I think about planting trees. When I bought a house in Johannesburg, when I turned 50, my father, then approaching 90, bought me some trees to plant. He told me that his father had told him ‘You’re never too old to plant a tree.’ And, since that time I’ve probably personally planted about 30 trees and donated numerous trees to be planted on South African school grounds in honour of birthdays of loved ones who have everything anyway.
In September I was on the west coast of British Columbia with that same boy I fell in love with back at the beginning of this blog. We travelled to Hot Springs Cove from Tofino. We spent days walking in the forest. I learnt a little bit about those great cedars, and could barely pull myself away from their gnarled trunks and the mosses and little orchids and things that live symbiotically with them, but eventually we had to get on the plane and come home.
What that trip meant to me, as part of the continuum of my life, was that I’ll never run out of time. That boy and the cedars will always be with me.
And yes, Julia, I’m supposed to be getting ready to drive to Saint John to go and help Andy, and yet here I am blogging. It was such a good question you asked and a great reason to write a blog – the road isn’t going to be any longer or shorter because I decided to do this first. I’ll get there when I get there.
© Delphine du Toit 2015