The concept of time is something I’ve always struggled with. The chokehold it has on me has persisted throughout my life.
“You need to slow down,” people tell me.
“You need to calm down,” they repeat.
Maybe I could calm down if time wasn’t ticking in the back of my mind like a disappointed parent.
Time is subjective. That’s something I believe is true. And to me, time is running out. I follow the structure; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My adolescence is over, and adulthood is looming, yet I still feel like a child.
For some people, it is so easy to forget about time. Maybe they don’t feel it like I do, or maybe they just have a more well-adjusted grasp on life. I studied abroad in Argentina, where the phrase “no pasa nada” would slip easily from locals’ lips. Well, for me, something ALWAYS pasa. On a trip that I took with friends to the border of Argentina/Brazil/Paraguay, my friend, who held all of our bus tickets, almost made everyone late. I was incredibly upset with him, but our last minute trip ended up being one of the best I have ever gone on. I was tranquila for as long as I could be, but time is relative when you’re looking at waterfalls.
I wish I could embody the carefree, easy-going spirit of my South American host family. We had long meals, authentic talks, and strolled from place to place. My roommate in Buenos Aires and I were a perfect match. She was always late, and I was always early. Together we showed up on time. I remember the surprise I had when my Argentine professors would saunter 15 minutes late into class and ask what we were doing there so early. I think I was supposed to learn an important lesson from this, but here I am, 6 months later, logging onto a Zoom call 15 minutes early. Maybe I did learn to calm down and savor time as they do in Latin America, but I’m not sure how much the message has stuck.
Maybe it’s the German part in me that loves structure. My mother joked when we were in Berlin on a family trip that I fit in perfectly because of my severe, orderly nature. I wasn’t even raised in Germany, though. Time has separated my family from a country they still claim ancestry to. Maybe it’s the American obsession with capitalism. The way time has been drilled into me since I could remember. The way my parents had me looking into college-level courses when I was only 12. The unforgiving sports and extracurriculars that constantly repeated: “if you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And if you’re late, just don’t show up.” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? My concept of time is so screwed up that I adjust driving times just in case I get into 3 car accidents on the way to my destination. Maybe that is hyperbole. Maybe it is not. Authority figures have used time against me, and here I am, grasping at ends and realizing not everyone views time the same way I do.
What’s funny is I’m writing this article right now on a time crunch. Pre-Argentina Madison would have flipped out writing something on such short notice. This article would have been a lot more interesting if I had more time. I guess I have relaxed a bit, yet the countdown is still in the back of my mind telling me to do better. I’m nearly 22, and that age terrifies me. I know people who got married at 22. I know people who had full-time job offers before 22. All I have is a pretty good GPA and mental illness.
Time stops for me in May. Life as I have known it will stop. I’ve been a student for so long, and time has put me in a 9-5 box. I know this is dramatic. If some 40-year-old reads this, they’ll just laugh at my naivete. Sorry. I’m naive. I’m still a child. I couldn’t beat the clock. I need more time. I need a re-do.
All of time has led me to where I am. I’ve followed it perfectly. I sleep for the recommended amount of hours. I have that overzealous American work ethic that just would not fly in France. Time has changed me, it’s obvious. I feel as if I’ve lived seven lives between 2017-2020, which is ironic because I always thought time followed an unshakeable structure.
Maybe time isn’t disappointed in me. Maybe time is just reminding me of all I’ve done. Time is telling me that I’ve made it through the worst year of my life only to discover that there are more bad years to come. But there was growth there. And friendship. And mistakes. And learning. And maturing. Not to mention lots of crying. When time has a chokehold on you, sometimes all you can do is cry and beg for some air to breathe.
I’ve never had a grasp on time. It has always had its grasp on me. But maybe that is part of the human condition. To learn to sit with time and take things as they happen. Maybe that’s the lesson I was supposed to learn in Argentina. Or maybe my lesson still needs to be learned. I’m not who I thought I would be at 22. Time has changed my perception of myself, but I no longer see that as a bad thing. Time is what tells you it is okay to cook an omelet at 10 a.m., yet incredibly quirky to cook it at 10 p.m. I think today I’ll cook an omelet at 3 p.m. and take time into my own hands. Time shows on your skin, your hair, your hands. People say the eyes never change, but old people get cataracts, so I would say time changes everything. I don’t have time figured out, and it’s silly that anyone believes they do. Maybe I’m just an insufferable little girl ranting about her stress with no perception of reality. That’s fine with me. I have time.