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The Illusion of Time

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

Last Tuesday, I headed to a café to meet Susan for lunch, almost 57 years to the day we had first met as freshmen at SUNY Plattsburgh. I grabbed some old photos, my class blazer and my frayed Class of 1969 beanie. Both Susan and I had those beanies plopped on our heads at the tug-of-war during Freshmen Orientation in 1965.

Freshmen were expected to wear a beanie, their class year embroidered on the cap. Designed to instill camaraderie, cap-wearing rendered us instantly recognizable to receive assistance or abuse based on the nature of the upperclassmen we encountered.

Just minutes before, my parents had abandoned me on that field as they headed back to Long Island for the 8-hour trek back home without me. At 17, I had spent only a handful of nights away from home without my parents. Everything familiar and safe dissolved over that berm as I watched our Oldsmobile's tail lights disappear down Rugar Street.

Feeling insecure and alone, I wandered over to my dorm and was glad to see Susan’s familiar face across the hall. By the end of first semester, our assigned roommates were gone and although Susan and I lived together for 4 years we lost touch after graduation. Now, she was stopping in Albany for a family wedding. I scanned the outdoor patio to see if I would recognize her; I knew her at once.

There she was, busily taking care of things as if arranging surgical instruments on a tray,

her hands seemingly disconnected from her wrists rotating in concentric circles, shooing away crumbs, fetching cups, drying off the damp table and chairs.

Grasping her coffee in two hands, Susan leaned in over her cup, speaking rapidly and breathlessly, “How’s your coffee?” she asked softly, as if sharing one of the greatest secrets ever told.

It was familiar to me, the way she spoke and moved, as if I had seen her the day before yesterday. I couldn't stop thinking about how much had changed in those 57 years. Yet after almost 6 decades, it felt like we had just returned to campus after summer vacation.

I'm curious how that happens and befuddled by the concept of time which seems to move slowly, quickly, or not at all. My physical body has changed, but the voice in my head is immutable, ageless. According to Einstein, and other erudite scholars quoted on, time is an illusion, neither absolute nor real; everything past, present, and future is happening right now.

Even Sheldon Cooper would have to read that twice. It reminds me of common religious refrains, “As it was, as it is, as it will be, world without end.”

After lunch, my son and grandson arrive to help me prepare for an upcoming move. Luke will be a college freshman this week, but he won’t be wearing a beanie. My beanie no longer fits snuggly on my head, but it’s already in the Keep pile. I hold up a framed, preschool photo of my grandkids for my son to see before stashing it in the Keep pile as well.

Greg stares at that photo of his kids for a long time. “Where did the time go?” my son asks quietly. It is a ubiquitous, rhetorical query.

As I begin to pack for yet another move, I am determined to keep only the essentials this time.

The beanie is in the Keep pile.

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