This is the Life
BY C. L. BOTHWELL III
If you knew you would only have $14,000 to last you the rest of your life, chances are you would think twice about expenditure. You would know that a dollar spent was a dollar gone forever. You would probably buy seeds instead of food, cloth instead of clothes, a bicycle instead of a car; generally choosing the durable over the throwaway, and the easily maintained over the complex.
Replace dollars with days, however, and we are readily spendthrift. Our little blue planet probably won't spin around more than 20,000 times before you are outta` here. If one includes children, Americans have an average life expectancy of just over 14,000 days. That's 14,000 more sunrises and sunsets; a little more than 500 full moons, and perhaps 80 solar eclipses. Only a handful of visible comets will swing by before you go, and about as many spectacular meteor showers.
I am a little past halfway. Daffodils will only pop up 35 more times before I am pushing them up myself, and autumn leaves will only swirl around my feet on something like 900 more days before I am pulling them up around my chin to snuggle in for the winter.
The briefness of life is a commonplace, of course. There's nothing particularly profound in noticing its pace. Even that relentlessly material girl, Madonna, recently told Rolling Stone magazine that "I feel the fleetingness of time. And I don't want to waste it on getting the perfect lip color." It is easy to give lip-service to the years, but it's the days that slip by. A year is long enough to be something of an abstraction. We reach another birthday and say we don't feel a year older. We make a list of resolutions on January 1st, and know we'll have plenty of time to make some changes. But then we spend a day shopping and another getting the car repaired, a morning at the dentist and another day recovering.
My best days seem to pass by in a place completely out of time. A day to whittle. A day to read or write. A day to hike into and out of unknown places.
When Shakespeare observed that "tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day," he was not describing the modern experience. If Shakespeare's days crept, it is clear evidence that human consciousness has changed radically in 400 years. Our days are better described in the Beatles' "Day in the Life." "Get up, get out of bed, drag a comb across my head. Find my way downstairs and have a cup, looking up, I noticed I was late..."
Some folks call Wednesday "hump day" and say it seems slow, but the weeks speed by. Deadlines race into view and nearly knock us over as they sweep past. No sooner are bills paid than another round pop out of the box. And that is where things begin to blur. Months teeter on the edge of graspability. I could easily describe to you what I did last week, but last month demands some generalization. When we announce plans for tomorrow they tend to be definite. Plans for next month are more like good intentions, with perhaps a couple of contractual obligations and a lot of blank space between.
Recent research suggests that we have an innate time-line built into our brains' circuitry. Our basic understanding of numbers is stored as visual information; line segments of differing lengths. This concept stretches forward and back, giving us our sense of past, present and future. Vision involves perspective. A distant telephone pole is no bigger than your finger, and mountains on the horizon are shorter than your thumb.
This has the dual effect of making today very important and current events very large while making the past look closer than it is and at the same time smaller. That's the effect Bob Seger described, singing, "Seems like yesterday, but it was long ago."
But I don't want to let the apparent distance fool me, or the abstraction of years muddle my view. I have about 10,185 days in my account as I write this, and 10,150 by the time you read it. I'm going to make this day a good one, because I'll never get it back.
Cecil Bothwell hails from the other Carolina. Duck Soup is served at 8:40 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday on WNCW 88.7FM Spindale, 100.7FM Charlotte, 95.5FM Beech Mountain, 92.9FM Boone, N.C.; 96.7FM Knoxville, Tenn.; and 97.3FM Greenville.