Albert Einstein was right; time is relative. He was not talking about relatives coming for a visit that seems to last forever. Instead, he said that as an object increases in speed, time slows down.
We don’t need a genius to tell us what we already instinctively know. That must make us all geniuses. Time is compressed. As we speed around the sun on a new annual lap, 2014 is not a year long.
The time is slowed to memories.
Our personal memories are our measure of time. They are not an atomic clock. However, scientists out to prove the relativity of time took two real atomic clocks that were synchronized down to the smallest unit of time we know. Retrieved from the Internet seconds ago: the definition of a second is "the duration of 9192631770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom." Try that on a Rolex.
They kept one clock locked to earth, and they put the other identical timepiece on a jet that circled the globe as fast as it could. It was nowhere near the speed of light, but with the precision of the clocks the researchers could tell if there were a difference. Sure enough, the traveling massive wristwatch slowed compared to its twin relatively stationary on the ground.
Of course, as we reminisce about the past year, time is also altered. Before it was 365 days. Now it is only the seconds we spend thinking about a trip or a special event. Labor of delivery can be hours, but we only remember the beauty of the baby. Fortunately, even moments of tragedy are not as protracted as the real suffering.
That is, unless we hang on to them day and night.
This is when time slows and the seconds of sorrow become a lifetime of pain. Returning over and over again to some personal error or some systemic injustice stops time. Our minds never leave that day. We regurgitate the wrongs that we did or that were inflicted upon us. We taste the acidic insensitivity of others one more time.
We use this day to relive the past. We waste today on yesterday.
When we carry jealous judgments of others, we have a heavy load. There is a story of two monks walking together. They come to a river without a bridge. A young woman is struggling to cross when the first celibate man picks her up and carries her across the rushing waters, setting her down on the other side. The monks resume their journey for several hours when the second brother finally expresses his concerns. “You touched a woman against your vows.” The kinder, wiser fellow answered: “I carried her for a moment, and you have been carrying her this whole time.”
Certainly we want to lengthen the joy and truncate the bad. Pictures are a tool to arrest time. With seemly everyone with a cellphone with a camera, they stop time all the time. My dear brother believes that something did not happen unless there is a picture. I don't want to admit too often to his superior wisdom, but this one he got right on.
We even reverse time when we look back to images of the past. Our children, now all grown up, become the squirming little kids who didn’t want to have their picture taken. Reflections of ourselves transport us back decades, sweeping away the cobwebs of the mind. Both time and aging are erased.
Our minds can’t hold every minute of our lives. Journals can be a reasonable substitute. Taking a few minutes to write takes time and holds onto it with a tight squeeze. Recording our thoughts and feelings slows down time better than a racing atomic clock.
We get to stop time in its tracks.
Einstein theorized that time is relative. We knew it all along.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing physician for 30 years and a hospitalist at Primary Children's Hospital and the University of Utah. Email: email@example.com