Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hotcakes, cars and clocks: Weller's theory of time relativity

Yesterday I breakfasted with Brian. I explained my theory of why time seems to fly over a meal of pecan-raisin pancakes at Flapjack Restaurant. But first, let me explain how, between mouthfuls of steaming hotcakes smothered in (sugar-free) syrup, the subject came up.

Brian mentioned that his oldest grandson is seventeen and carrying a newly-minted driver's license in his wallet. As it happens, the oldest of the Franklies is seventeen herself and has recently taken to the road. (She nearly spun out, in fact, on the way home from her High School Christmas concert last night, but correctly corrected and made her way home like a real life Michigan driver - which she is, of course.)

Anyway, both Brian and I were feeling a little bit sentimental as we talked about how quickly time has passed. Just yesterday my daughter was tooling around in a Little Tykes coupe with red fenders and a yellow roof. Made of plastic, the body resisted all attempts at dents and dings. Today she drives around in one of Detroit's finest. Interstate, inner-city - she does fine in any environment except perhaps dirt roads, which she has not yet had the occasion to drive on. (Except for those times when she was thirteen and I would let her drive our old Astro minivan the back way from Butler to the Koeppe farm - but don't tell her mother.)

Back to breakfast. Brian said to me, "I can't believe how quickly time flies."

"I have a theory about that," I replied.

"Let's have it."

"It is like this: When you're six years old and you're waiting for Christmas to come, or you're waiting for the big day when you finally get to ride the school bus, it seems like time drags on. That is because a month is a significant percentage of your total life experience.

"It seems like it takes forever for you to turn ten years old because one year, when you are only nine, is over ten percent of your lifetime. When you're forty-one like me, though, one year is less than 2.5% of your total life experience. It's not that time passes more quickly, it is just that it seems to because your perception of the future is compared to your experience of the past. It is the same reason why almost everyone looks back on their childhood as 'the good old days' when life seemed to move at a slower pace.

"In other words, I consider Christmas coming in just over a week and I think, 'it is just a blink away.' My four-year-old goddaughter, however, thinks it will never get here. We view time differently."

Consider that in light of eternity.

Earlier this week our church laid to rest a thirty-seven-year-old woman who passed away from cancer. Tammy left behind a loving husband and five children ages sixteen months to fourteen years. For her husband, Chris, and her children, I imagine it seems like it will be a very long time until they are able to see her again. And, for the youngest of her family, that time will seem to pass more slowly, especially right now. Chris enjoyed fourteen years with his wife. Their infant son knew her less than two. Sadly, they likely will spend far more time without Tammy than with her - at least here on earth.

Except for this - Tammy is a Christ-follower. So is her husband and their three oldest children. I expect the littlest two will be, too. And so I was able to say with confidence at her funeral:
You're going to spend far more years with Tammy than without her. Heaven is forever, friends. And even if all of us live to a ripe old age, living decades here on earth without Tammy, that time is only a fraction of a whisper of a moment compared to the time that you will spend with her in Heaven.
It seems like the time between now and when we are finally at home in Heaven ticks by ever so slowly. And yet, viewed from the lens of eternity, say, a million years from now, this life is "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." And, on freezing, snow-covered days like today, I am glad for that.

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