About time

Last week, as you do on a dreary lockdown evening in Ireland in darkest January, we had a family summit. The aim? To reach agreement on that perennial existential question: Which Film Should We Watch?

On this occasion, James Marsh’s beautiful film The Theory of Everything survived the negotiations (they can be tense), and emerged as the winner. Again. On reflection, I imagine there are several reasons why we keep returning to this film. For a start, there are those evocative glimpses of university-city-past that remind my husband and me of the balmy days of our youth. Not that we are nostalgic or anything. Might we be forgiven for being mesmerised by those twinkling lights and starry skies and fireworks by the riverside?

And then there are the absolutely absorbing biographies of Stephen and Jane Hawking, wonderfully interpreted by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. I should point out that Jane Hawking’s book Travelling to Infinity on which the film is based, is well worth reading. Throughout the film, there are poignant moments that seem to capture something of the depths and complexities of human experience and emotion: love; determination; exhaustion; disappointment; hope.

As the story of the film unfolds, it was the idea of time that Hawking ingeniously laid claim upon as the subject of his doctoral study. The tantalising, alluring possibility of arriving at an understanding of time’s origins and nature. I am no mathematician, so the science of it all goes right over my head. Like Jane, I was ‘French and Spanish’.

But there is also the impression of a window onto lived time. I have come to realise after multiple viewings that one of the things I love about this film is looking at and remembering all the fittings and furnishings and fashions that change as decade passes into decade. It’s that nostalgia thing again. For example, those sunny- egg-yolk-yellow Formica cupboards in Jane’s kitchen look strangely familiar. Had I come across them before somewhere? And the shape of that dove-grey boater hat she wore on the memorable visit with Stephen and their children to Buckingham Palace reminded me of a remarkably similar headpiece worn by my Mum at my university graduation in the summer of 1994.

Time moves along. For me, until the onset of the current pandemic, it seemed to fly. There was so much happening, so many places to go, and so much to look forward to. We could hardly find the time to fit it all in. Yet almost a year ago now (isn’t it hard to believe?), life suddenly decelerated. The days began to stretch out inexorably, and nothing very much at all seemed to happen from one hour to the next. I wrote a few lines trying to describe the feeling of all this in a poem I was happy to have published in Pendemic

Perhaps this sense of slowing down will prove to be a good thing. But the pandemic has also reminded us of another of time’s attributes: it is finite. The sweet gift of hours and days and years that is bestowed upon each one of us will some day reach its conclusion. Time is precious, therefore. We can identify with the prayerful words of Mary Oliver: ‘Oh Lord … grant me, in your mercy, / a little more time’. 

If we are honest, there are periods in our lives that we might prefer to avoid. Like this very pandemic. At various points during Lockdowns One, Two and Three, I’ve thought about these words in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

I mentioned in my last post that I hoped to welcome some of my friends to Writing Home. These are people whose ways of spending time, or even better whose ways of “redeeming the time” (to borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul), have been inspiring for me. I hope they will inspire you too. For to live well, in such a time as this, we need inspiration. I can’t wait to introduce you to my first guest, God willing, very soon.

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