If time doesn’t exist, I’m never late

December 1, 2010

It’s way, way too early to be awake. The sun hasn’t even crested the horizon and I’m lying in bed, a blink away from a really nice dream, hammering the snooze button with a closed fist.

As the radio DJ squawks on about something, it hits me: Why does this little plastic machine, with its glow-in-the-dark numbers and buttons assembled by a 12-year-old in China get to tell me when to get up?

Aren’t I supposed to be the superior being here? But just when you’re ready to throw out all the clocks, uproot from this hectic modern life and go live off the land in Bora Bora, a talk with physicist Eric Mazur will set you straight.

Time, he told me over the phone last week, is not what we think it is.

Here was an accomplished professor – a Harvard man, no less – telling me scientists don’t really know what time is. Some think it doesn’t even exist.

If that’s true, maybe you can’t even be late for anything, since clocks are only measuring a figment of our imagination. Maybe that alarm is just pointing out random moments in the rotation of Earth.

Now that’s what I like to hear. There is no such thing as being late since there is no such thing as time. Few things could be more encouraging to a habitually tardy arriver. I can’t wait to explain to my editors my column didn’t arrive past deadline, you see, it simply exists in a universe of non-sequential events.

If only I had known this years ago, I could have saved myself all that time running around collecting speeding tickets like they were Topps baseball cards. I could have relaxed a little more, taken the foot off the gas, slowed down enough to smell the roses more often.

Of course, I can’t help running late. It’s in my genes. Family legend has it my ancestors in the Polkinghorne side of the clan only came to Upper Canada because they missed the boat for Australia. Horse and buggy traffic was terrible, I’m told. But, being the eternal optimists that they were, they simply caught the next ship they could, and became Canadians.

This tardy gene passed through the generations directly to my mother, who kept alive the family tradition of being fashionably late so loyally she might as well have been early for the next day’s fashion show. She was so consistently late you could set your watch to it.

As kids, we learned this pretty early on and we’d often sneak into her car at night and set the dashboard clock ahead half an hour. Miraculously, she’d still arrive 30 minutes late to pick us up from school.

No surprise then, with her as my mother, I also came into the world late. And butt-first.

Other cultures don’t stress about time like Canadians do. In many countries, appointments are pointless. People arrive when they arrive. It’s an attitude that drives punctual Westerners crazy, but it makes you wonder: are people who float above the rigid constraints of time more miserable than the rest of us? They hardly seem to be.

We have a funny relationship with time in the modern world. We all want more of it, yet we complain when it drags. And when someone is dead, we call them late. Late for what? What’s the hurry to rush through your life, when you’re going to be late in the end, anyway?

Anyhow, it may not matter after all. In that case, I think I’m going back to bed.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

Guelph Mercury, 01/12/10

One Response to If time doesn’t exist, I’m never late

  1. Bill Gray on December 2, 2010 at 10:03 am

    I always try to read your articles each week and I always get a kick out of your way with words and the subjects that you cover.

    I thoroughly enjoyed today’s mercer retort (and it’s about “time”.)
    Keep up the good work. I need the diversion from all the troubling
    news reports of the day.

    Bill Gray

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