Time is a funny thing. One my favorite sayings goes, “the days are long, but the years are short.”
The first time I encountered these words was as a parent. I’d just returned from a work trip, and was thinking about how it felt like yesterday that my kids were bumbling across grass to kick a ball — or rather, propel it forward by stumbling into it. Now they were a year or two older, running far ahead of us just within eyeshot towards the open fields of Green Lake to join their soccer teams. Where had all the time gone?
The next morning, I was greeted with a three-alarm, whack-a-mole exercise where each kid had a crisis one after the other in turn. It was not yet 8am, and the day already felt so very long. So which is it? Is time really a constant, or does it move in relation to our experience of it? As in, does time even really exist outside of our experience of it? The year of travel has given me added perspective into that question. When we began to embark on the journey, some people said “it’s only a year, you’ll be back before you know it,” while others said “oh, wow, a year is a long time.” It turns out time is relative not only within ourselves, but between people.
In the movies Interstellar and Planet of the Apes, an astronaut goes into space and discovers that their experience of days away equates to years or even decades that transpired on Earth. Each side has a difficulty, if not the impossible task of making up for lost time apart. A year of worldschooling is no moonshot, but the notion that time passes differently for those who have not journeyed together feels acutely real. Where disconnects arise, it is not always obvious to one or both parties how a divergent sense of time may have been a contributing factor. Perhaps that’s just one of the prices we pay for choosing to travel away from home for so long (or short, depending on your definition of a year).
I am now in Medellin, with both my mother and father, who have journeyed together for some decades, and then apart for others. They don’t see eye-to-eye on many things, or even particularly understand each other terribly well. I wonder, did their choices to journey apart emotionally and then physically cause time and memory to pass differently between them? My brother shows me a photo he’d just taken of them sharing a smoke, as they often do. They are leaning in closely and intimately, with one helping the other light a cigarette. They are also helping each consume carcinogens that harm their well being. The metaphor and irony is not lost upon me, which is what makes this one of my favorite pictures of them together. Could it be that as we age, we turn back to appreciating even the difficult moments, such that the years turn long and the days short? I might have to wait a few more decades to answer that one myself.
What I can say is that worldschooling this year has somehow felt like cheating time, by stretching out both the days and the year, such that they both feel richer, deeper and longer. We’ve been immensely mindful about how we spend each day — about where we travel, what we’re learning, who we’re spending time with, and how we’re choosing to grow individually and together. Worldschooling is a remarkable vehicle to do this, as it’s almost a necessity to be mindful about such things, but the lesson I’m taking with me is that it isn’t necessary to travel as we have to cheat time this way. Any life that approaches relationships, work, and play with such care and mindfulness will cheat time. That’s a lesson I hope to carry with me for a long time to come.
Yesterday, Jasper and Kieran turned ten years old, and Julien will turn twelve shortly after we finish our travels. I am better able to internalize where time has flown (pun intended) this year than in previous ones. I found myself remembering once upon a time back home when they invented terrible knock-knock jokes: “knock knock”… “who’s there?”… “car”… “car who?”… “vroom vroom”. I also recalled a moment just last week when one of them joked — for the umpteenth time — if the glass of wine on the table is for him. “You’re beating a dead horse,” I told him. “Well,” he retorted cheerfully, “time to get a new horse, I guess!” Both those days, as well as all the days in between, feel long and deep with context, and I can richly connect the dots between their humor then and their wit today. I can’t wait to see what kind of jokes they come up with next.