How to Live Beyond Time

A rooftop in Seoul with a cityscape and mountains in the distance. It's sunset, with purple clouds and a yellow horizon.

The coffeeshops in this new neighborhood are full of students knee-deep into the fall semester. I peak at the textbooks the couple next to me are studying: calculus. The guy to my right, programming. The girls across the way are discussing grammar in Korean, English and Spanish, cycling though the languages every few sentences.

I’m south of the Han now, close to one of the major universities in Seoul. The energy of the cafes these days crackles with excitement- not yet the frantic stress of the weeks approaching midterms. Me, though? I’m sinking deep into the dreamtime of fall, contemplating October’s mysteries, missing the deep reds and oranges of the woods of my New England hometown, thinking about how I’ll be spending Samhain on a plane instead of calling on dangerous restless spirits- or at least engaged in masked shenanigans ๐Ÿ˜‰

In a book I’m reading (I’ll keep the book a secret since I’m giving away a spoiler), twenty years pass suddenly and I’m angry that I’m expected to just accept such a large passage of time slipping away before the characters are able to act once again on behalf of what they love and believe in. But then if I look back on twenty years ago, it feels as if no time has passed at all, and I’m still a fourteen-year old, just beginning high school. There are certainly things I’ve dropped for twenty years- martial arts is one of them.

And the richness of the fabric of time just astounds me these days- how real memories feel, textured and complex andย full. But the future- which is not even real!- feels just as much so to me. I confess I’m a schemer and a dreamer, and I’m guilty of spending a great deal of time unnecessarily plotting my next steps, searching like a lost soul for my destiny.

Here are some thoughts, therefore, on time and its meaning:

-My dorm-style accommodations give me access to a rooftop, so I’ve been going up morning and night to practice taekwondo. A week into this habit, I remembered a story I wrote as a twelve-year old, about a warrioress protecting her best friend, who was a princess. In one scene, she practices on the castle roof in the moonlight. And I remember thinking, that would be the epitome of cool, to spend your days on a rooftop practicing martial arts. Ha! And here I am.

-Putting aside comments that could be made about my definitions of cool, this memory brings up another thought- the idea of how we age mentally. Some of us are natural 50-year olds; others never seem to leave high school. Am I mentally a twelve-year old? When I posed this question to my coworker, she said, “Well, moving to China to study kung-fu is something a twelve-year old would do.” She herself is probably mentally somewhere in her twenties, still clubbing and staying out all night (I seem to have missed that stage altogether- except of course, on Halloween :P). I think in her heart, she’s still a DJ, something she set aside to have a more practical job.

Why is it that we drop ourselves, sometimes, when we age? We’re not allowed to dream crazy dreams once we turn 14, as in my case, or 35, as in hers. How can we get good at recognizing this when it’s happening, so we can do something about it?

-A similar idea to mental age- I’ve heard it considered in terms of seasons– there are Spring people, who flower most beautifully in their youth, and later on tend to look back with great nostalgia, feeling those were the best years of their lives. Then there are Summer people, who blossom in their twenties and thirties, working hard with great energy and enthusiasm, strong of body and mind. And then there are Autumn people, who are shy in their youth and take time to come into their confidence, or pull their energies together into accomplishments and develop strength of character.

What about winter? There was no description of winter people, in the book that I read (sadly, I no longer remember the book where I heard this idea)- perhaps they were the wise elders, a role tragically lost these days. Perhaps they were always rare, since people for so long, didn’t live past “autumn.” But I like to think there are winter people. They’re the people who share a closeness or a kinship with death. Perhaps they lost someone beloved early in life, and so for them, death is real- death informs their every move, reminds them often of its presence- never far, unforgettable.

These Winter people, they have an extra pair of eyes, always seeing the end of things. They remember the preciousness of each breath, the suddenness with which everything can be taken away. They remember: we own nothing, in this life. It’s all borrowed.

-Bringing that back to my dilemma, where the past and future are so alive- my task, then, must be to be here, in the present, and use the present to create the future that I daydream about so much. Use the present to honor the past I was gifted: both horrors and triumphs, pain and beauty. In this way I can pull the aliveness of both the past and the future into this moment- ground them in the here and now, express their realness not with daydreams but with action.


 

Friends, what are your thoughts on these ideas? On time and timelessness, on the realness of the future and the past, on pulling them into the present? Do any of you relate to the idea of mentally or spiritually being a different age? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below ๐Ÿ™‚