A few weeks back, one of the gizmos in my home’s heating system started to play up. It seemed like only recently that we’d replaced this particular widget, but a quick look at my ‘gas, water and electricity’ file (don’t judge me) confirmed that we’d in fact fitted a new one over six years ago. And we’d installed the previous one roughly six years before that. While the problem with the heating was, thankfully, easily fixed, it did get me thinking about the way we observe the passing of time.
We’re all familiar with the usual temporal metrics, like hours, days, weeks and months. The passing of the seasons is also pretty relevant, especially to people like me who grow a lot of their own food. And the year, marking as it does a full circuit around the sun, has a nice unity to it. It’s long enough to allow you to get serious things done, but not so long as to drag on too much. It also, helpfully, divides a human lifetime into a series of manageable chunks.
These are all pretty standard ways of observing the passing of time. And they’re shared by all of us in one way or another, which is reasonably convenient. But my boiler episode – creating, as it does, a new ‘boiler-widget-time’ of approximately six Earth years – highlights, we each also have our own, more personal, ways of marking our journey through the temporal dimension.
My childhood, for example, is ordered not by year, but by the various ramshackle old houses my family lived in. My wife marks the passage of time by way of the universities she’s worked in and the students she’s seen through to graduation. My sister by her young son’s sporting and artistic activities and achievements.
When our older dog, Molly, arrived with us as a puppy, several other people in our neighbourhood also welcomed young canine companions into their lives. Twelve years later, many of these dogs have now sadly passed on, and their owners have started to appear in our regular dog-walking haunts with new puppies or rehomed youngsters. All of which adds another temporal cycle to our lives; that of a much-loved companion.
Days, weeks, months and years all surely have their place, but they don’t tell the whole story. Because while time (presumably) passes at the same rate for everyone, the way in which we observe the passage of this time is much more personal to each of us. It is marked, ultimately, not by the pages of a calendar, but by the things that are important to us. By the people and places that we love. By the moments that we cherish.