Time. A construct of human making; a quiet, inescapable, omnipresent and overlooked ruler of a human life, sometimes benevolent, sometimes tyrannical; counted in the busy world through seconds, minutes, days, months, years, major and minor life events, celebrity sightings and sports, TV shows and academic seasons — all rolling over into one another, seamlessly.
We know, we think we know, that time passes because we have artefacts and indicators and sciences that prove time’s movement: astronomy, archeology, geology, calendars, radio-carbon dating and tree-ring counts, night passing into day, seasons, hibernations, migrations of animals, birds, butterflies and water creatures; humans growing from short to tall, birthdays; smooth, soft skin changing to become weathered and wrinkled and as ever, the life cycle: if we are here, now, there will be a time in some distant future when we won’t be here at all.
There are times and events that trick us into thinking that we experience time in its extremes, when it seems to speed up, slow down or on occasion, stand utterly still, frozen in heat and cold and light and dark; in throat and heart and mind and hands and feet and pit of stomach. But that’s not time so much as mind and memory — unreliable witnesses to any time and fact-based reality.
For all of its influence and power, we can’t see, can’t touch, can’t hold, can’t taste, can’t hear time. But we imagine it flowing by. We imagine it means something. We imagine that we must mean something in time. We make statues. Write books. We make up slogans: live, love, leave a legacy.
Time visited recently and I wanted to stop it. I wanted to stop the clock that’s ticking. That ushered in my big, beautiful dog’s birthday. The clock that’s telling the cells in his body he’s not a young dog anymore. Parker poodle is 11 years old. He’s stiff. Moving slower. Getting noticeably older. The people at the pet food store called him a senior dog. It brought me to my senses. He will not be here forever. I felt it.
I’m supposed to be a grown up. I’m supposed to be comforted by knowing that Parker poodle’s grandfather lived to be 16 and his father is doing well at 13 — both good ages for big dogs. Let it be noted, mindfully, that I am not a grown up. I’m engaging in childlike magical thinking that Parker will live forever even though I know nothing and no one is permanent, that everything has a beginning and an end and that even the love of a lifetime ends when the lives of the lovers are over.
I am attached to both of my dogs. And a few people. According to the rules, attachment is the root of human suffering. Don’t get me started on rules. Perhaps it’s attachment that provokes my gangster self into stealing time and energy from the here and now so that I can zip into the future to imagine the loss I will experience when Parker disappears from the world and turns into memories and pictures and stories and dust.
Time won’t stop. Not for me, not for the people I love, and not for my big dog. We go for slower walks. I throw the ball less or not at all. He doesn’t take himself upstairs to bed at 9:30 at night and I don’t call him to come up anymore.
Sometimes I sit beside him, stroking his back or massaging that muscles that seem sore. I do meditative breathing, aiming for stillness of heart and mind — mine, not his. Othertimes, I put my hand over his heart centre and when I do, he prrrs, something he does because he was raised with a mess of kittens. Lately, when I sit near him and massage him and feel the heat in parts of his body that are stiff, my throat tightens. He moves to place his long nose and forehead to my side which pushes the button that causes salty tears to well up in my eyes and spill down my face which somehow causes the little dog to come from her bed far across the house to sit with us. Together we sit there, in a moment, sharing the most precious and elusive and finite resource we have left to us: time.