By Christopher Cudworth
During one interesting but emotionally painful semester in college I studied the Philosophy of Existentialism with a professor named Richard Ylvisaker. We read the existentialism philosophers like Sartre and Camus. Somewhere along the way we encountered the concept of the irreversibility of time. It seemed like a solid notion that you can’t go back in time. Not without some miracle machine. Despite the many contentions of shoes like Dr. Who, the machine that can take us back through doesn’t really exist.
Of course there’s no guarantee time travel is any bargain for those of us here in the present. The Simpsons dealt with many facets of time travel with Homer going back in time to screw things up.
The idea of going back in time or controlling time in some way is all conjecture of course. Those of us who run and ride know this fact more intimately than anyone else on earth. We live and die by the clock.
But we do live outside of time in some significant ways. Our “best times” for a particular distance live in our minds like seperate realities. Our “PRs” or “PBs” (personal records or personal bests) are sometimes years ago. With age they become something out of reach. They can only be recalled with fondness or in some cases with digital verity.
That’s what freaked me out the other day when I took a photo by accident while having iced tea with my gal Sue in front of Starbucks in Geneva, Illinois.
While scrolling through photos to post on Instagram that evening I noticed the odd image in my camera. A young women appears to be strolling right out of time and back into space. She’s entering the picture as if she emerged of the vapors. The front half of her body is in full clarity. The rest disappears into time and space.
We’ve been warned by astrophysicists for years that our concept of time and space may be an illusion of sorts. If things in the universe get impacted by gravity or some other force that sucks up matter or light, the entire notion of time and space can get bent, warped or fractured. We hear about worm holes and other extreme compressions of space that might enable time travel if we could enter them and survive.
My own experience with time compression is limited, yet profound. During the national cross country meet in Rock Island in 1978, I was nearing the finish of the 8K race knowing that I was our 5th man, and thus a key to our team’s success. Rounding the last turn toward the finish, it felt like time began to slow. Every sound around me seemed to squish. I was keenly aware of every step and as I passed other runners, it felt like I could will them behind me.
We placed second in the nation that year behind North Central College. The third place team was just a point or two behind us. The fourth place team just a few points behind them. It had all come down to those last few yards.
For better or worse there were other races over the years where time seemed to slow. The feeling that you are unable to make up any ground on the runner or rider ahead of you can make it feel like time itself is your enemy. It’s as if you’ve entered a bad dream and can’t seem to make time work on your behalf.
Which is also weird because time does not seem to function the same way in dreams as it does in real life. Even the act of dreaming is compressed. So much happens in dreams. Our mind invents or relates all kinds of strange things. We wake up and try to figure out what it all means and struggle to connect the dots. Yet some dreams feel so powerful they almost replace reality.
The Bible shows us moments when people vexed by dreams struggle to understand their meaning and how it affects their concept of time and place. At one point a great king keeps having the same dream and asks all his courtiers what it means. Finally he encounters someone that can interpret for him. It goes like this:
28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:
29 “As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. 30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.”
The predictive nature of the dream is not a happy scenario for the king. It points to times ahead when the king will lose his kingdom and his people are scattered. That happened a lot back then. Being a king has never been an easy gig.
Easy times. Hard times.
Which is why statements such as “Your time has come” can have either positive and negative connotations.
Those of us who train and compete within the constraints of time recognize the significance of these moments in the continuum of existence. We purposely place ourselves in positions where decisions must be made.
Do we go with the surge in a running race? Jump the gap and get on the wheel of the group ahead.
These are critical decisions because they determine how well we are able to keep up with others in time.
The same thing happens in our lives and careers. We speak in terms of “getting ahead” in life. But are we talking about time or compensation or well-being? The answer to that question is “Yes, all of the above.”
Yet even people who get ahead in life can suddenly look back and realize something might be missing. Too many of us tend to live with regrets as a result. We think back on how things might have been different. If we’d just done this or changed that.
Certainly that happens with almost every race we run. “I should have run faster on the third mile” we tell ourselves. But we didn’t. And we can’t change that. “Wouldhavecouldhaveshouldhave” is not a dependable life philosophy. It’s an excuse for not living in the moment, responding to the challenge or Carpe Diem.
Some moments in time are so important they can be life-changing. When you say the right thing at the right time to the right boss, you might get a promotion.
Similarly when you capitalize on your training and racing and break through to times you never thought possible, it is like a “time out of mind experience.”
For these reasons I love the mystical lyrics from the Steely Dan song Time Out of Mind:
Son you better be ready for love
On this glory day
This is your chance to believe
What I’ve got to say
Keep your eyes on the sky
Put a dollar in the kitty
Don’t the moon look pretty
Tonight when I chase the dragon
The water will change to cherry wine
And the silver will turn to gold
Time out of mind
One of my favorite sayings in life draws from reading a book in college Freshman Studies. I’ve quoted it many times before but it always has significance. “The purity of the moment is made from the absence of time…” was a phrase drawn found in the book Ambiguous Adventure by Cheik Hamidou Kane.
The concept is simple, but it’s implementation is more profound and complex.
Doing the things you love makes time slow down. Being in love makes time more real and meaningful. Loving and being loved in return makes this world a better place. Do you notice the theme? It is love that ultimately drives our concept of time and appreciation of life.
It’s about time you thought about time. After all, it’s all we’ve got. So I’ll leave you with this gift to take with you on the road today. The perfect little set of lyrics from Time Out of Mind that you can sing to yourself as you pedal, run or swim.
Children we have it right here
It’s the light in my eyes
It’s perfection and grace
It’s the smile on my face
Time Out of Mind