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A short reflection on time

By Sarahmarie Specht-BirdPublished 2 years ago 3 min read
Photo by Adora Goodenough on Unsplash

Last night at Kathryn’s party, we talked about books and movies that make us cry. Kody threw out The Art of Racing in the Rain. “It’s narrated by a dog!” A collective groan. Dog books. Emily mentioned The Goldfinch. “It’s a coming of age story,” Kathryn explained to the rest of the group who had not read the tome. “It’s in my top seven best books ever,” I added. I had my hands up and was waving them frantically, the way I do when someone is talking about something I love. I was thinking about the Mauritshuis museum in the Hague and remembering, after reading the book, that I had seen the little painting when I was there. Windy January, flag whipping in the wind outside in the plaza, dreading the inevitable day when I would have to go to Schiphol airport in the rain and leave the Netherlands and go back home.

I didn’t say it at the party last night, but when I think about movies that make me cry, I always remember The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I saw it with my family back in 2008 when it had just come out, back when I was still in high school and had not done much leaving yet. There were forgettable parts, and it was a huge leap from the original Fitzgerald short story. But there was something rending about the idea of a man going backwards in time. The story was the kind of pain you almost seek out, like tenderly biting on a sore tooth, just to see what the searing does to your nerve endings. To be born old and to meet your lover in the middle, lose maturity as you go along, sink into the pleasant timelessness of childhood at the end of your life until you die a newborn baby—what would that be like? What would one’s experience of time weigh? Would it be better than the other way around?

I can’t stop thinking about time. I can’t believe it’s been so many months since Christmas, since the Thanksgiving day race, since my most recent breakup, since the start of fall semester. As I write, it’s two years since the start of the pandemic. Three since I came home from the Netherlands and started hiking the Appalachian Trail. I want to hold these units of time like lumps of clay in my hand and possess them, sense them, squish them around and feel their solid mass and understand what they contain and how they are already so unbelievably huge. These mathematics are an incomprehensible senselessness of hours blending into days into weeks into months into eternity.

The end of Benjamin Button was what really got me. The story is set in New Orleans, and as the plot rockets Benjamin towards his death as a baby, the city is pummeled by Hurricane Katrina. Lights flicker and go out. Hospitals scramble to keep their patients alive. In a basement somewhere in the city, water floods into a room that contains a clock. Its hands are moving backwards, ticking in quiet opposition to the onrush of forward-flowing time, collapse, disaster, destruction. The screen goes black, and the story is over, but the clock ticks on.

I cry at a lot of things. I love crying. I love the feeling of having a complete physical reaction to an emotion. I love the sense of being absolutely on the brink of falling apart but knowing that at the end of it, it will stop and the sun will come out. Crying is like an afternoon thunderstorm in the Sierras that booms and hails until it is empty. How cool is it that our bodies can storm.

I stormed hard at Benjamin Button. Almost as hard as I stormed on the plane home from the Netherlands. Almost as hard as I stormed when I summited Katahdin at the end of the Appalachian Trail. Almost as hard as that rainy day in late December, bawling in my car outside the bookstore while I tried to eat a bagel and Monica told me that I was going to be okay. “There are so many people in the world. This is just one of them.” I know. I am an absolute cumulonimbus that comes down in rivulets. Anything can send me into flood mode. And all the while, the world keeps moving. Day, night, day, night. All the while, the clock keeps ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. Waters rushing in. Screen going black. Lights come up: and now it’s time to move.


About the Creator

Sarahmarie Specht-Bird

A writer, teacher, traveler, and long-distance hiker in pursuit of a life that blends them all. Read trail dispatches and adventure stories at my website.

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