Few topics are as disconcerting as time–by itself, of course, it’s quite harmless but it’s what it calls to mind that unnerves us–namely, our limited time and the disappointing way we choose to spend that limited time. Think of the people that history remembers–dedicated authors, obsessive workers, prolific innovators, ingenious thinkers. All of these people, even if not conscious of it, did not “fritter and waste” their hours away–they milked them to their fullest potential. Time is a sly topic–it is Trojan Horse, coming through the gates as something harmless but opening up to reveal itself as a dismal reminder of our mortality. Let this sentiment bring us to the first four lines of Pink Floyd’s “Time”:
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way
These lines tune into two of Irvin D. Yalom’s (existential psychotherapy pioneer) four ultimate concerns: meaninglessness, and freedom. These lines are bold: we waste our time away (let the moments “[tick] away”), choosing to bother with trivialities (“kicking around on a piece of ground”), waiting for our calling, for the day to come that we finally write that book, get that promotion, earn the fame we envisioned possible (“waiting for someone or something to show you the way”)–or perhaps waiting for it all to make sense or for our path to simply emerge so we might be guided by it.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
These are perhaps the most unnerving lines in the song. Here the aforementioned concerns are elaborated: We grow sick of wasting our time but justify our unproductive habits by fooling ourselves, stating, “I’ve got time,” or, “I’m going to die one day, may as well do that I want”–when in reality this sedentism is not what you want. We do not want to be defined but sedentism but authenticity and productivity (whatever that means to us). And then, as if out of nowhere, we realize ten years have passed. Perhaps we have grown closer to our goals but infinitesimally so compared to if we awoke early every morning and worked tirelessly towards them. You wonder where the time has gone and look around you–some of your friends have done much better, others worse. You feel it is unfair, that you never got the same memo (never heard the “starting gun”). Upon this realization, seeing the runners far ahead of us, we can either give up and remain at the starting line, trying to drown our shame by loading trivial tasks upon us–or get running.
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
And here that veil is lifted from the topic of time and we are told why it is worth such worry–because it indirectly refers to our death. Our time is limited–we know this, yet we still bother with trivialities. If we decide to make up for lost time, we will realize everything else is still moving forwards–those runners had the “headstart,” leaving you behind, “shorter of breath,” and “closer to death,” but trying still to make up the distance or not trying at all.
The time is gone, the song is over
Though I’d something more to say
And then it ends, even with more to do and more to say–it ends.
What follows for the remaining minutes of “Time” is a reprise of a previous song. There is one very important section here:
Far away across the fields
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spells
Here we touch upon the final ultimate concern: isolation. As the brilliant biologist Edward O. Wilson once stated, “the brain was made for religion and religion for the brain.” There is something immensely comforting about religion: our concerns of death, isolation, meaninglessness, and freedom can be immediately quelled. Those who fear death may believe in afterlife or reincarnation; those who fear isolation now have community of like-minded individuals; those who wish for order and direction are saved from the nauseating freedom which allows us to waste time by being told to believe what is moral and what is not, what is productive and what is not, that just being alive and faithful is enough; those who fear the everything is inherently meaningless are told it simply is not. It is like a “magic spell”–an illusory incantation which we know cannot exist, yet which we are drawn to endlessly as our brains demand contentment to such a degree that it will purposely mislead itself.
A FINAL NOTE
We all have time–some have more than others and others less–but we all have time. Write your novel; paint your masterpiece; open that store; get your degree; fight for that promotion; read that book–just use your time as if it were limited, as if it were ticking away every moment, as if this was it and life is what you make it, because, regardless of comforting words and philosophies that help us live in peace by removing us from truth, it is.