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The Lessons Only Time Can Teach
By Sarah McTernen

Time is such an integral part to our lives. We are always biding it or trying to find more of it, rushing it or maximizing it. We view time as linear, moving us forward, not considering that the passing of time, is a social construct, an element of society. We are bombarded with sayings that tell us to not waste time and we have Carpe Diem plastered over decorative signs in our living rooms. We feel guilty and ashamed when our lives are filled with grocery trips instead of breathtaking adventures, business meetings instead of painting projects. We wait. We linger in both pain and pleasure and then we beat ourselves up for not moving faster. Not seeing the truth, the point, the reality sooner. Not taking a moment to consider, maybe we could not have seen it sooner. Maybe it was all those seconds, adding together that brought clarity. Maybe time is not linear and our reality is based off of all the stories we tell ourselves, all the moments in our lives built on top of each other to bring us to now. We fight this battle of hurry up, get it done, move on. We have to know everything right now. If you are learning you are behind. Amongst all of the pressure, all of the rushing, and speed, time still ticks by at its steady pace, laughing because you cannot rush it. You cannot speed up time. You cannot be who you will be next week today in order to learn your lesson sooner.

Our society imposes upon our lives, an accelerated time frame, encouraging us to sprint in what should be a marathon, shoving a lifetime of learning and growing into a mere 30 years of life. While our bodies change from a helpless infant to a physically mature adult, our minds are bombarded with both social and intellectual information that is supposed to be eternally retained. We have now discovered that the prefrontal cortex that controls operations such as reasoning, planning, prioritizing, and the control of impulses is not mature until we are in our mid to late twenties, yet society expects us to make decisions such as career and life partner when our executive functions are underdeveloped. Society pushes you forward on the conveyer belt of youth, reiterating the message that by the time you are 30, if you have not graduated college, become gainfully employed, married a compatible partner, and had 1.5 children, you are behind. On top of that, there isn’t a similar time frame for later life. Instead of feeling liberated by the lack of social pressure, we often flounder, unused to following our personal journey, without a clear goal ahead except to work for 30-40 years and then retire into uselessness. The journey is ignored. The minutes in life brimming with emotion both good and bad are disregarded. The endless possibilities of life go unnoticed as we work slavishly for companies, waiting for a time in our later years when we are free to travel and learn to paint. As those later years approach, deeply rooted habits rut our path and instead of a life of freedom and beauty, we settle into our couches, watching our phones, and eating another bag of chips.

We bulldoze through life, pre-occupied with being productive. We overbook ourselves with tasks that do not feed our souls. We spend too much time searching for that quick fix: 10 easy steps to happiness or how to find enlightenment in 21 days so that we can fit our growth into our artificially busy lives and arrive at the place of ease, our future self. We ignore that life is a journey and time is a key element. We make excuses that we don’t have time to do the things we love, the things that sustain our spirits. We say we are too busy with the ins and outs of life, and we will make time for it later. In the meantime, we worry. We worry we don’t have enough time. We worry we won’t get all the things done. This worrying drains away our ability to accomplish anything. The worry takes more time than the doing. We fret, rub our hands together, and procrastinate, we raise our heart rates and stop our breathing and let our brains run away with us letting the tasks at hand linger undone. We dread the things we “should” do or “must” do, not realizing that just doing them, rids us of that worry. The responsibility and commitments we are tasked with in this life teach us lessons that we would not learn elsewhere and the time that it takes to successfully accomplish these tasks is the time that it takes to grow and mature to be who we will need to be to move on to the next phase of life. We have all of the time we need to do what must be done, if we just do it, if we follow our hearts. There is no set timeframe for life, only the one we accept which means we can also reject it . It is our journey, and no one else’s, and we are walking the same path whether we worry about how busy we are, or breathe and accept that sometimes, what we desire isn’t ready to be in the world yet.

We drive ourselves through this life full of distractions, situations and substances ready to take away the hurt, the pain, to soften the hard moments in this life. We focus on the big picture, the big accomplishments, the good things, pushing away all of the ways that time tries to grow us, tries to teach us more than we are willing to learn: to sit with discomfort, to let go of the worry and the fear, to be vulnerable and accept that pain and heartache happen. The question is always, what is this trying to teach me? What do I know now that I didn’t know before? We run through this life with blinders on, forgetting to see the path that we are walking on, forgetting to notice all the life around us. It is only through learning to not run away from the hard moments, to not distract ourselves when it hurts, that we can grow and experience life fully.

Still we continue on the same as we have always done, because the thought of change terrifies us, and keeps us stagnant. We linger in a time because of pleasure or fear. We feel the itch to grow, yet are afraid to change. In these static moments, when we lament our decisions and feel like we have wasted our time, our minds are synthesizing the past and the present, learning passively. Time is healing us, and maturing us, breaking down old wishes and ideas, composting them, and turning our previous experiences and thoughts into something new. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is pointless. Sometimes you have to re-visit a lesson many times before you learn that you needed to learn, or all the things you needed to learn. Some lessons must be repeated.

Yet at other times we feel the need to move on, to grow, to change our colors, and time grabs our ankles and holds us in place. Responsibilities have not been handled and commitments have not been fulfilled. We must linger and trust in time that there is a season for all the moments of life, and often that season is not now. There are seasons in this life that we cannot rush. We may be tired of planting, ready to retire from the work, yet sowing must come before the harvest. Parenthood is a season that we have limited control over its length. We are held static by the maturation of our offspring. Forced to put aside our dreams for their wellbeing. We must honor the journey and learn to have patience, realizing that we are growing up right alongside our children.

When you are a child and learning how to do things, it is expected that you will not be quick. It will take time and practice to master whatever skill it is that you are acquiring. When we start talking about personal growth, the learning that tends to be happening in adult years, the learning about being a “better” human being, we treat this learning like it doesn’t need practice, doesn’t need time. We are supposed to discover the ins and outs of how something works and then be able to perfectly replicate that in our lives, immediately. We don’t think that sometimes, working on yourself means days where you did the things you needed to do, but still were not very productive. Days where it took a long time to remember, or to figure out, what the next step is. Days where you repeat the same steps over and over again, until the truth of it settles in your soul. We forget that ideas need time to develop and grow, to root and flower. We rush, and push, and bully our way into enlightenment and wonder why we don’t ever get there. We look at ourselves as singular entities and not as a piece of a whole.

Our lives are made up of all these moving pieces. We make a decision and it changes the course of everyone’s life who is connected to that decision and to those people who are connected to those people and so on. We do not act in a vacuum. We do not have control over the world. Nothing is an isolated incident. Various pieces and places, decisions and indecisions create the path of history and our own individual lives. Some events are mandatory catalysts to propel us to the next level of our existence, and if we try to rush into or out of it, we will not advance. Sometimes the window to move is small, and we wait, and we miss it. We feel this change in our heart, our gut, that something has altered, and we change our course, picking up new experiences, and new ideas, new people and new thought patterns to help us in the years to come.

Time brings the important people into our lives, the people who will give us strength when we are weak, the people who will make us laugh when we have cried for far too long. At times we feel alone. We feel like there is not anyone out there who could ever know the struggles of our lives, or ever care. We wrap ourselves in solitude And then one day we uncover that we matter to someone, and that someone matters to you. Through the years we gather puzzle pieces. We collect the odd shapes that fill in our odd shapes. For some people this is easy. These people typically come to a deep understanding of themselves early on in life, they understand the paradox that the puzzle pieces make up a whole, but they are whole unto themselves. Others, struggle against who they are, they collect puzzle pieces that are not theirs to collect, so the puzzle pieces do not fit and they must start over, over and over again, until they learn to accept their own tabs and blanks, and welcome into their life the beauty and peace that comes with acceptance.

Accepting the lessons of time, requires faith. Faith in our effort, in our process of growth. We all have our own personal timeline for this life. We have skills that are not ready on societies schedule. We have dreams that are too big for us when we are young, or too puerile when we are older. We cannot predict the skills our life will require or the knowledge that would be useful to have beforehand, yet life, prepares you for the future if you will only have faith. There are lessons we cannot know to learn, lessons we cannot seek or solve without personal experience. These experiences are trials, are the struggles in our lives that we would much rather not have to deal with. They are illness and the death of a loved one, children or marriage, loss of love or the loss of loving.

Sitting at my kitchen table in January, writing my intentions for the upcoming year, I realized how often I impose my will upon the universe; how often in my youthful arrogance I believe that I understand this path my feet are walking on when my focus is distracted and dispersed. I have spent much of my life feeling like I was playing catch-up. I didn’t have enough time to prepare, to acquire all the knowledge I would need before I needed it. I am learning as I go and I feel lacking because of it. In the last few years, I have struggled with purpose and meaning, clinging to the things I value with my fingertips while living in a world of things I do not attach importance to. I have struggled with where my choices have left me. I have struggled with a pervasive unhappiness and discontent. Then the realization struck me, no one is ever prepared for this life, we are always learning on the move, while amid the action, but often we are so focused on our destination, on that finish line up ahead, that we forget this journey is important. We forget that the struggle is important. Nothing grows without struggle. We downplay the importance of effort, practice, and the time it takes for all the disparate puzzle pieces of our ideal life to be collected and assembled. It all takes time. I must give time its due.

Published 4/10/2020