The Ebb and Flow of Time


It seems that, these days, everyone is hurrying up to finish writing their happily ever after. For some reason, everyone is scurrying to find their Prince Charming, and quick to get married. They are anxious to start their lives together, to buy their first house, to get big promotions in their jobs, to settle down into the routine they will spend the next fifty years maintaining.

I can’t exactly exclude myself from this high anxiety crowd. As a self-identified Type A personality, I love order and structure. A psychic once told me I would get married at 27, so my projected future currently looks like: (a) finish grad school at 26, (b) meet a husband, (c) get married at 27, (d) go on a couple nice vacations, (e) have babies by 29, (f) raise kids and (g) retire at 65.

However, as I have learned, life never ever goes according to plan. We think we will make that professional dance team, and then we don’t. We think we are going to marry that boyfriend, and then we don’t. We think we will go on an exotic vacation, and then we have an electrical fire, our car breaks down, student loan payments come due, and we don’t. When I graduated college three years ago, I would have never predicted I would be where I am today. But, what I can say is, in retrospect, I would not change anything that happened to me, because everything had aligned itself perfectly; had I not gotten cut from that dance team, I would not have done teaching school, and I would not have the opportunity to change lives everyday; had my family been a little more ‘normal’, I would not have the sense of humor that I do, and no one would want to read my blog; had that long term boyfriend not dumped me, I wouldn’t have met the other one (who also then dumped me), and had they not both dumped me, I would not have spun into my so-fulfilling and so-enlightening existential crisis. Despite my ‘plan for my future’, everything has happened exactly as it was supposed to.

While planning for our futures relieves some anxiety, we also must recognize that life happens in cycles and shifts and patterns, and things come and go and don’t necessarily stay the same;  life does it so breathlessly that we don’t even notice the ebb and flow, and the tides and the currents changing. We go from being really into learning to play guitar to having an interest in pop-lock-n-droppin to studying how to be the best softball player ever, and it all happens so seamlessly, so unnoticed. Sometimes, things in our lives have beginnings and endings, such as anniversaries and breakups, first days of school and graduations, weddings and funerals. Other times, things in our lives slowly drift in, and, just as inconspicuously as they drifted in, they drift out. As we began pilfering through old pictures of my grandpa, I began noticing all the small, unnoticeable, but distinct changes the house I grew up in made; one time, there was a big, blooming bush in the front that is now cut down. One time, we had a green front door that is now tan. One time, there was an igloo and snowboard ramp in the front yard that provided hours of entertainment that is now very melted and gone. I can’t necessarily pinpoint exactly when those changes occurred, because that wasn’t the important part; we get so busy in our lives, and these changes occur so minutely and discreetly, we forget to notice their presence; but, they certainly are still there.

I can especially see this cycle occurring with my relationships with people. When I look back on my life, I have had a fair share of ‘best friends’. This girl was my ‘best friend’ for a period of time, until, for whatever reason, we stopped hanging out, and another ‘best friend’ sauntered in, until, she, too, flowed out. There are a myriad of tidals that caused this: it could have been one of them moved away, or one of them starting liking my boyfriend-at-the-time, or they, themselves, gravitated towards a different ‘best ‘friend’, and we just lost touch. Sometimes, they come back. Sometimes, they don’t. But, those are not necessarily calendar dates or timestamps that we can predict, because who knows what will happen.

Sometimes, we are only allowed to have people in our lives, or we are only allowed to do things, for certain periods of time, and when the people or the things leave, it’s just a signal that we are meant to be doing something else; I wasn’t supposed to be dancing, because I was supposed to be doing teaching school; I wasn’t supposed to have a normal family, because normal families do not have as great of stories as we do; I wasn’t supposed to marry that long term boyfriend, because I was supposed to set off, go on some adventures, discover some new and marvelous things. It is within these moments of change that our perceptions of the world are shaken up, and new relationships, new connections, new knowledge is revealed to us that enhances our experience of the world.

While it is important to plan for our futures, there are a lot of things we are not in control of. We can’t schedule when our Prince Charming will arrive. We can’t make an appointment on our Google calendars for when that friendship will blow up. We can’t set an iPhone reminder for the exact time we will have our mid-life crisis.

Here’s what I know for sure: I am confident my Prince Charming will eventually show up (hopefully on his strapping young pony), and when he does, I will know; but, I won’t know when that is until the time comes. I am sure my book will get published, but not until it is ready, and when that publishing offer comes through, then that’s the sign it is ready for the public eye to read it. I am not sure what kind of career I will retire in, but when the opportunity presents itself, I will know. I don’t know if I will live in Colorado the rest of my life, or attend the same church, or go onto get my pHD, or ever get a dog or move out of my sister’s house, but, whatever I am meant to do will happen when it is supposed to, and I will know.

The time and mental energy I would spend ‘planning my future’, I am now trying to shift to just paying attention and listening to ‘what I am supposed to be doing at the present moment’. If I feel anxious, guilty, or apprehensive, then I know it’s not something I was supposed to do. However, if I have a feeling I am supposed to pull into that parking spot, and when I run into a long-lost friend and hear some news, I know why. If I have a feeling I am supposed to pick that seat on the airplane, and when it turns out the guy next to me was involved in the teacher evaluation process, I know why. If I think I am supposed to call that person, and the conversation goes well, then for whatever reason, that is what I was supposed to do. If I think I am supposed to post something on my blog, and it turns out someone needed to read it, then I know I have listened and paid attention effectively.

My new favorite motto? “We will cross that bridge when it gets here”. Time is a tricky, deceitful, complex illusion. Albert Einstein once said, “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once”. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but paying attention to the timing of the ebb and flow of life certainly presents some very, very interesting insights…

10 Responses

  1. Lovely post. One of my best friends went to see one of the elders, now gone, who taught us. On the way, she spotted a turtle lying upside down on the freeway ramp. She drove to the next exit, got off, and made a circle. It was not a busy ramp, so when she got back to the turtle she pulled off, jumped from her car and, gabbing the turtle, moved it off the ramp. Later, she told our teacher the story. My friend had been fretting about finding her life purpose. After hearing the story of the turtle, our teacher said, “Sometimes the Creator gives us the gift of live with a simple purpose. Sometimes we are only here to move a turtle off the road.”

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