Where Does the Time Go? A Real Discussion (and I mean it this time)

In the early 2000’s, my mom developed severe intestinal bleeding that required taking her to the ER. I was visiting her in Texas; it was late December. She was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas morning, my dad, sister and I drove to the hospital to see mom. We arrived about 8 AM. I knew something was off — Mom had this stricken look on her face. A surgeon appeared, wearing huge cowboy boots. He explained that a large part of mom’s colon needed to be removed. She was hemorrhaging badly.

The surgery required many hours; that afternoon she was moved to the Recovery room. The hospital staff allowed us to stay near her bedside. Periodically, mom would awaken and lift her head, peer around the room then look at me. She would whisper, “I can’t believe it’s Christmas…” then pass out.

This scenario — waking, looking around, saying “I can’t believe it’s Christmas” then passing out — repeated itself often, perhaps seven or eight times. It was as if mom couldn’t understand the juxtaposition of “surgery” and “Christmas morning.”

At the time, I thought it was funny — then kind of tragic — then funny again — then perplexing that she would return to the same awareness and repeat the same thing:

I can’t believe it’s Christmas.

She was in her early 60s at the time. She is now 82. I am 60 years old and will turn 61 in a few weeks. 

I find myself repeating things about the passing of time… all the time. “I can’t believe it’s Fall.” “I can’t believe it’s time to do our income taxes again.” “I can’t believe the semester is ending.” “I can’t believe the holidays are here.”

I wish I could explain what is going though our heads. I feel as if I am suspended between Understanding and Not Understanding.

One minute I was in my late 30s and planning to move to Sonoma County. But then in a dizzying whoosh I’m suddenly in my 60s and figuring out my retirement plans. Retirement!

But these awarenesses are nothing new. The great Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his notebooks more than 2,000 years ago: “Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”

Perhaps we’re expecting too much of ourselves. Can anyone live their life while also being outside time and consciously marking the hours and days of it? Sure, some of us spend a lot of time reflecting on the human condition. But I’m not sure my fascination with the questions of life is the same mechanism that could keep me aware of time while I’m making my way through it.

How did my 30s become my 60s? I remember going to the gym four times/week and having a body that was kind of amazing. I was 34 years old. But now, after a shower I look at myself and see a shock in the mirror: I have my father’s body. I have a belly; my hair has thinned to nothing.

How could I have become This Current Me? I feel as if I should know and yet am perplexed as to how it happened.

I think back to when I was 40. I watch my mother lift her head from the hospital bed to peer at me with such incomprehension. All these years later I hear her voice, as if she is saying it this very second: I can’t believe it’s Christmas.

Then she lowers her head. She looks up at the ceiling of that hospital room. She’s lost. She cannot figure it out.

7 thoughts on “Where Does the Time Go? A Real Discussion (and I mean it this time)

  1. Always delighted to see a new post of yours, Bart! I was especially caught up in the hospital scene. I could feel that giggle inside me when you were moving back and forth between finding it funny and tragic. We are such funny little creatures, aren’t we? Thank you for this.

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  2. Hi Bart,

    Thank you for having me on your mailing list! I always enjoy your writing! More, more, please!

    I remember how you always wrote an inspiring and thought provoking quote on the board for your classes. Sometimes I would slip some Emerson into the conversation in my classes! Self Reliance comes to mind.

    Lisa told me that you liked my pull toys in the gallery. They were a diversion of mine during Covid isolation. We have to entertain ourselves!

    I think she also may have told you a little about our upcoming collaboration installation based on a story I wrote. Enclosed see just one of my constructions for it.

    High regards, Paula

    >

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    1. Hi Paula!
      What a delight to hear from you. Yes, I was at the art show’s final day. Loved the pull toys you made, and was really taken with your constructions made from the historic pharmaceutical records. This collaboration with Lisa sounds fascinating.
      Thanks for coming by the blog and staying in touch. I hope our paths cross soon!
      Warmest regards,
      Bart

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  3. Loved this blog post. I love to read your writing. So entertaining the way you bring the reality of life into the concept of time.

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  4. I love this Bart. I can so relate. I have experienced disbelief that Christmas has arrived already every year for at least the past fifty years.
    As a retiree I can promise you one thing. It’s a little easier to live “inside time”, forgetting about consciously marking the hours and days of it.

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  5. So glad to see a post from you, Bart. Please share more! Your thinning hair shows the beautiful shape of your head, and the body is only a vehicle. Just think, I’m older than you by as old as my grandson is.

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