Artists, and the old, and the sick and the unemployed, often experience time in a way that non-artists, the young, and the well-employed do not.
This is not all bad, and can be good. Nora Gallagher in her recent book, Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic, speaks of her sense of time changing when she learns that she has a rare and serious illness. She said she looked at the people on the other side of the “glass,” the non-sick, the “bizzy,” who had all been like her, and she realized they didn’t see her, didn’t want to see her. Part of her wants to go back to being “bizzy,” because before she was behind glass, she had a clear sense of herself, her importance, her power, and her place in the scheme of things. She learns, slowly, to acclimate to her enforced slowness and disability, and gradually comes to readjust her inner sense of time. Instead of planning and executing, she begins to live in the present. She says,
“If you stayed in the present, if you paid attention thoroughly to the now, what it had in it might come to you. And if you did not pay attention to the present, you might miss essential information that might be exactly what you need.”
I had an experience the other day of transitioning from one sense of time to the other. At the drugstore/post office in our neighborhood, I bumped into BJ, an artist friend of my father’s. I have always felt warmly to him—he is gregarious, funny, and kind. I was also surprised to see him out and about, because he has cancer, and has had it for some time. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure he was still with us until I saw him. He was jaundiced and seemed to have shrunk a bit, but his eyes were full of mischief.
I was just leaving and had in my hand a list of errands to do. My engine was revved and I didn’t want to linger. But linger I did, because once we got family news out of the way, he started regaling me with stories of his adventures with my dad, who has been gone eighteen years. I was happy to hear about Dad having a good time—I think BJ might have egged him on to some shenanigans. Then somehow we got on to writing letters, and I told him how delighted I was to get an actual hand-written note from my friend, who refuses to be “social media-d.”
We were off and running. I glanced down at my to-do list with the sinking feeling I wasn’t going to get anything done. BJ pulled out his pen, a Mont Blanc and told me how he writes with it on Crane stationary. Then we talked about paper, about the satisfaction of writing on a good thick rag paper, and I felt suddenly nostalgic for stationary and fountain pens. He says he spends a lot of time writing letters to old friends, all of them decorated with sketches. One elderly woman had her maid read all her letters because of macular degeneration, and when she died, the maid wrote him and asked him to write her—she missed his letters! He used to write another friend and when he died he wrote his wife, who shared them with her sister and when the wife died he wrote her sister, who shared them all with her cronies in a home in Florida.
Having thoroughly relinquished my future plans for the day, I stood there is awe of him. Here he was, sick, but keeping all these people entertained and engaged while the rest of the world rushed headlong—no time, no time, said the white rabbit—to what? Really, what was so important? What is important, a wise woman said to me a few days ago, is Presence. And that was what he was sharing with me, and so many others.
Funnily enough, I got all my errands done.