Science knows that we perceive time differently as we age. Specifically, we see it moving faster, which is a cruel trick our metabolism plays on us. Our dopamine production goes down, which has something to do with it too.
But who cares why it’s happening? It’s happening.
And whether biochemistry or psychology plays a role in a similar phenomenon, it’s also happening as we grow older: the scales fall away from our eyes.
I was thinking of that beautiful 1974 tune of Bob Marley’s – “No Woman, No Cry” – and just about teared up myself remembering the line that says, “Everything’s going to be all right.” And when I was young in 1974 I believed it, because I was on a track with successive horizons where new conditions would enter and I could have realistic hope that things might well be better when I reached them. And because Bob Marley said so.
The voice of the song is consoling a woman who seems to be crying over the poverty she was born into, just like him. He remembers those times but with a certain kind of stoicism, or even happiness. “In this great future you can’t forget your past,” he says, which seems to suggest that the pain of yesterday will become pleasing memories in time. We used to share cornmeal porridge, remember?
But as I get older and time speeds up (vide supra), the scales are falling away from my eyes and I can see truer things than I could before.
Bob, I’m afraid everything is not going to be all right.
Bob, I’m afraid that the things we’ve fought for and achieved are tenuous, impermanent, or unreal.
Bob, I’m afraid that the potential is always present for things to fall back into a painful state.
Bob, I’m afraid that it is all so fragile.
Bob, I’m afraid there are no promises that can’t be broken.
There are no guarantees that change is always positive.
There is no safety net.
There is no golden tomorrow, just tomorrow.
And sometimes there’s no tomorrow.
And, Bob – you who died at 36 – you of all people understand that “everything is going to be all right” is the refrain of frightened people, people who are facing ever-present obstacles, challenges, and dangers. We don’t even know what’s coming to get us. 9/11. Skin cancer at 36 (like you). Mudslide at 41. Wildfire at 83. Everything better be all right, Bob, or we’re not leaving the fucking house.
No, here’s what I know now. Everything’s not going to be all right. But that’s all right.
You see, Bob, now I know when all the bad things are going to be happening to me – they’re happening in the dozen or so years I have left on the planet. I know the big thing is out there. I know it’s coming faster than it used to because time is skimming along at a clip now and I have less dopamine to slow it down and if something’s gonna get me I might as well face it with a stiff upper lip and a palette of warm memories in my heart. We used to share cornmeal porridge.
And I know that the way we perceive time, like the way we perceive the promise of a better future, is an illusion because time is time and our perception of it is irrelevant. Our perception of promising horizons is an illusion too, but we relish them like we relish every moment as we get older because without the sense that everything’s going to be all right we have no reason to stay here.
We used to watch the log wood burn all night, we used to sit on stones and watch the sun go down. We used to sing all night and wake and screw and laugh, and we had scales over our eyes as we gazed upon the warm horizon, never imagining that illusions are the things that let us abide in happiness.
I’m old and I perceive time differently than I once did, back when it was painfully at times slow. I’m old and the scales have fallen away from my eyes.
But, Bob, can it be true at the same time that there is no golden horizon and that everything is going to be all right?
Because I hope it is true. Even at this late date.
Edwin Kane is a septuagenarian from Denbigh, Virginia. He and his wife do enjoy listening to old Bob Marley LPs, among others, because music, he says, is the most efficient form of time travel. If that’s what you want to do.