At this writing, my daughter is half-way across the Pacific Ocean and headed towards Japan, where she will attend school for the next 11 months. When she travels by plane I enjoy watching her flight’s progress on the airline’s flight tracking system. I will check the status every couple of hours and wonder what she sees when she’s lucky enough to have a window seat. Or, on long flights after a night of short sleep (like last night), I hope she’s napping. Time enough to get some rest on a 10 hour flight. I assume the time change will not be much of a problem once she arrives. One advantage of youth is its impressive ability to adapt quickly to change. Time doesn’t seem to be such a significant factor (or motivator) for youth. They perceive having so much time it seems infinite. For youth, it doesn’t tick away with the consistency we notice later in life.
On my afternoon hike today I went past a house where a young musician practiced his/her trombone, in the shade of large trees in a back yard. I was hidden by the trees and a large, lovely stand of Cornus sericea showing the beginnings of fall change, so I felt it polite to stop a while and listen. Not bad, some struggling with deepest notes, the timid push of a new musician, but a resolve that seemed impressive. When the musican stopped for a rest I heard the tick, tick, tick of a metronome. I remember that steadiness, that regularity, clearly from my days of learning to make music. And I remember that making a mistake could not be disguised as improvisation. Music requires that we learn to understand and keep time before we improvise.
Back home, I checked the flight tracking system. Steady progress across the Pacific. In my readings about physics, I’ve encountered some scientists who believe that time is an illusion – that the impression that any moment is real is, in fact, just our interpretation – not based in any reality. I wonder about this when I see the changes of seasons or look at myself in the mirror. So, this is all just an illusion; not the result of sun, gravity, and time? I wish . . . But I see time as one manifestation of the immaculate, precise system through which all matter flows. Biological life and its seasons; minerals, rocks, planets, stars, and solar systems; all are touched by, and answer to, time. There is no escaping its effect.
To me, there is some comfort in time’s consistency. There is no improvisation in its movement. Seconds tick towards minutes, minutes towards hours, hours towards days whether or not we are ready – whether or not we approve. If we allow, time reassures us that there is much more than just us as we fly through life. And when we accept this reassurance, we are then free to improvise.