I have been experiencing a profound shift in how I think about time. Now more than ever I am aware that time is limited and will run out. I am also hyper-aware of the fragility of life, and that time could end at any moment. This awareness has manifested itself in both rational and irrational ways.
Semi-rational: Before this year, whenever I finished reading a book, I would pick up the next book that seemed interesting to me. I have a long list of books I would like to read eventually. Recently I calculated the average number of books I will read per year multiplied by my life expectancy, and realized with great sadness that I will only read a small fraction of the books on my list. So now, instead of reading books at random, I am methodically working my way through the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels. Plan for controlling my reading list: Check.
Irrational: I have to fly to L.A. this week. When I found out about the meeting, my first thought was to try to reschedule to sometime in March. I needed to reschedule so I could get caught up on my life insurance premiums with my next paycheck. I needed to be current with my life insurance before I set foot on an airplane. Because if I fly, I might die. Fortunately I realized how crazy this sounded, so I didn’t ask to reschedule. My fear of flying has intensified since Mike died. I play out in my head what my family would have to go through, similar to what we are still going through with Mike. I pray that my parents will not lose both of their children. I pray that my daughter will not lose her mother. I pray, please, just let me get caught up on my life insurance and pay back the people who have lent me money before something bad happens, so my family and friends won’t think I’m an ass-hole after I'm gone. These are the thoughts that go through my head until the captain turns off the seat belt sign.
Are there people who are at peace with the fact that life will end? I am terrified of death. I do not understand how Mike or anyone else would willingly choose it. I want to live as long as possible. But then, if I am living in fear, how richly am I living?
I have these fears about time partly because I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, partly because I am insane with grief, and partly because I am turning 40 this year. My brain has locked on to the idea that time is running out, and asks: What books do I need to read? What do I need to do to protect my family if something happens? What movies do I need to see? What places do I need to visit? What friends do I need to bring closer into my life? Have I loved enough? Have I done enough? Have I given enough?
Fear of flying is really the fear of having no control. Statistically, rationally, I should be more afraid to drive than to fly. When I drive my car, however, I have the illusion of control. I can plan my reading list for the next ten years, draft a will, or make yet another to do list, and it would only give me the illusion of control. No one controls time, or when it ends. Even Mike did not control that. Letting go of the illusion of control is counterintuitive and antithetical to my impulses. It is frightening and difficult. But even as I scheme new ways to control my dwindling time, I know that letting go is the lesson, the way through the fear. Letting go of the illusion of control is the only way to master time.