A New Theory of Relativity (Part 1)
"Time is relative."
Albert Einstein first made this revolutionary scientific discovery in the early 1900s, and remarkably, now more than 100 years later, it still stands. What this means: the rate at which time passes is dependent upon one's speed and acceleration at any given moment (aka whatever speed and acceleration you find yourself traveling at in your corner of the galaxy)—think Matthew McConaughey in the film Interstellar.
I am an English teacher—currently teaching English as a foreign language to high school boys in South Korea—and, out of all of the frustrations my students have expressed towards my native language, the numerous double meanings of English words would likely have to be at the top of my students' English-class-complaints list.
My young English-language learners have spent many a minute of class, asking me to explain some of the most minute words in the English language. I try to excuse this behavior because I understand English is hard, but there really is no excuse for interrupting class time. One of my students, however, recently brought me the English section of a practice exam meant to help Korean students prepare for South Korea's national college entrance exam, the Suneung, and I was able to empathize with my students a bit more—I had to read what they had all read several times before finally understanding it & was not at all content with the content of the exam. In all honesty, after reading just the English section, I wanted to crumple the whole thing into a ball, wind it up & throw it into the wind.
Alright, you get it—English is hard, but double word meanings in the English language, while, yes, being difficult, are also kind of fun, too, right?
Because so many of these double word meanings have been fresh on my mind, a new (rather interesting) question was able to wheedle its way into my brain in the middle of October, although I was not able to fully embrace it until this month. This question is what brings me back to Mr. Einstein's discovery I quoted at the beginning of this post.
Albert Einstein found that time is relative, but what kind of relative would you say time is to you?
Thanksgiving will soon be celebrated in the United States, and, if there is ever a time of year to think about all of your crazy relatives, it is the holiday season—the period of time stretching from Thanksgiving to Christmas & all the way up to the New Year too.
Whether you will be spending the holidays with relatives this year or not, the holiday season tends to trigger some powerful emotions in all of us concerning our families for numerous reasons, which is what leads me to my next question:
How exactly do you view time this holiday season?
1. Is time the parent who you have come to believe has nothing left to offer you at your current stage in life?
Father Time might have been kind to you as a child, but something happened along the way to create a divide between parent and child. Your anthem going into this holiday season might even be "OK Boomer," having finally hit your wall when it comes to productive conversations with time about anything—your hopes, dreams, and fears have all become taboo topics in your mind.
What does time have to offer you anymore? How could Father Time even understand what it is like living in your specific time? After experiencing explosive conversation after conversation with time, you have given up on it altogether. Sure, it is still there when you really need it, but you have grown to ignore it for the most part, pushing it into the background of your life. It will still be there next year, right?
2. Is time the child who you used to know so well, but who has recently distanced themselves from you?
Time used to be such a gift—late nights, trying to rock your little blessing to sleep, early mornings, attempting to somehow get everyone out the door for school, and long weekends, making sure that everyone gets to wherever they need to be on time.
Time has now turned on you, though.
The child you once rocked to sleep all those years ago has long since left home. You gave so much of your time to them, but now it seems as if they cannot find any time for you. It used to feel as if you had all of the time in the world, but conversations with time now feel short and rushed. You might even fear that too much time has been lost & that you will never get back what you once had with time ever again. You also fear missing out on the time you actually do still have left in life—what will happen when it finally runs out for good?
3. Or is time the crazy relative who you have grown to avoid almost entirely, having been hurt by them one too many times?
Time has hurt you. Maybe it would be alright if it was just once or twice, but now you have spent years of your life taking hit after hit from them.
You have even begun building up walls to protect yourself from time. What is the point of allowing time to inflict anymore pain in your life than it already has? Time did not help you ten years ago when it insulted your choice of friends, or five years ago when it criticized your career decisions, or even last year when it asked whether or not you were going to start dating again. You thought time was meant to heal those things, but it hasn't. It's just made all of them worse. At some point, you eventually decided to just push away time completely—you stayed away from conversations with it, made sure it wasn't seated next to you at the family meal, and eventually just decided to avoid it at all costs during the holiday season.
Einstein was right—time is relative.
But here is my new theory of relativity: it is up to you to decide what kind of relative time will be in your life. You get to choose how you perceive the people around you, how you will interact with them, and whether or not you are going to let them into your life.
Albert Einstein himself had his own, complicated relationship with time throughout his life as many of us do, too—trying to balance the little bit that he had between his work and his family. When Einstein's time finally came, he met it as one would meet an old friend, stating "I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly." While these words are certainly beautiful, they are not, however, my favorite words stated by Einstein during his life. No, I would have to say my favorite quote from Albert Einstein is the one I have only been partially quoting this entire post:
"Time is relative; its only worth depends upon what we do as it is passing."
Whatever time you are struggling with at the present moment—not wanting to think about it, hoping for more of it, or trying to avoid it at all costs because it has hurt you—you get to decide what to do with it. You get to decide how you will spend your life. And you get to decide the people who will be sitting around a table with you this holiday season.
While I will be unpacking this further in my next post for the sake of your time, I want to leave you with one final reminder:
Time might be relative, but one thing that is absolute—time is never promised to any of us. Cherish it. Spend it well.
Time might be relative, but one thing that is absolute—time is never promised to any of us.
For the child who feels they will never understand their boomer parents, none of us know how much time any of us have left in this world. Go hug your parents this holiday season. Tell them you love them. Time might be annoying at times, but it is also precious.
For the parents who fear they are losing time, go and enjoy the time you still have left! Time is an adventure—it is constantly changing. Change things up this year for the holidays too. Heck, fly the family to Hawaii for Christmas (looking at you, Dad...)! Time is still just as much a gift today as it was all of those years ago, even though we all certainly look different.
And for the person who has been hurt by time, try to find the time to talk about it this year. Just because time hasn't healed those wounds yet, it does not mean those wounds will never be healed. Find a trusted counselor or therapist with whom you can walk through and unpack the pain you have been carrying with you. Time can hurt, but I have also found just how much it can heal with the right people standing by your side too.
And time is not only relative to us as humans; it is also relative to God. If it took Him just a week to create the entire universe, what is the tiny bit of time we find ourselves in now to Him—a second, a millisecond? Every second truly counts, my friends, and I believe God cares deeply about how we pass each and every one of those seconds.
I will conclude this post with the same words I left my students with at the beginning of this week before they took their national practice exam: I hope you pass it well.
James Davisson is just a small man with a big heart, serving a much bigger God.