Time is elastic, stretching out or snapping back. My 7th grade algebra class was the final period of the day. I would watch the clock, tracking the slow tick of the second hand making the full circuit for each minute, watching the minute hand click down until school was finally over. It took years, eons, for the 40 minutes to pass; I had entered a time warp where the world may have been moving through space but that classroom was not.
Reviewing the years of my marriage, of the relationship I had with my now deceased husband, glowing faintly is the linear trail that goes back 9 years, to that June day of 2004 when we first met. There, at the very tip, at the end farthest from my now, is the first email I sent through the internet dating service where we met. A few klicks down the road was the first time I met his family, and he met mine. Following along are other landmarks, large and small, but all lined up properly in order like eggs in a carton.
There is the nice path, all sunshiny and bright, filled with warm, happy memories.
Another path through our shared life exists; one darker, more treacherous. It charts the negatives, all the bad times, the evil portents, my attempt to logic out what happened, how it happened, to find the roots for the terrible crop reaped last year. Both paths have clearly defined steps, in a specific order; many of them intertwined. That is the elastic, linear, time-bound view of my marriage.
Time is plastic, malleable like Silly Putty, capable of creating new shapes and meanings from the same materials. My daughter loves music from the 1960s, experiencing it all as a whole, where I see a carefully laid out chronological and cultural map. Rubber Soul goes before Jefferson Airplane; mods and hippies exist on separate planes, and it’s just not possible to like both the Beatles and the Monkees. Unless, like her, you were born years after; in which case my carefully constructed linear path is balled up, crumpled like an old piece of paper, ending up with the writing placed on straight lines forming entirely new sentences with different meanings.
The plastic, non-linear view of time is dynamic, pieces connecting and forming in different ways, offering new insights and visions. The plasticity of time allows me to grab specific moments and events from the 8 years we had together and smash them together to create single whole views, each one different and distinct.
Look: there is the picture of all the good and the best we had. These aren’t links in a chain, starting and ending in the same places, each piece always in the same order. This view is a gestalt of all the best we had; it is a quilt made from individual memories. I can see each discrete piece; here is the first night we spent together, there we are driving route 66, over in the corner are all the calls I got at work just to say hi. The meaning isn’t in the individual moments, but the in the whole that they make up; the sure knowledge that there was someone there, who would always be there, a person to turn to at night after a bad dream, to share in life’s good and bad times. That is plastic time; only when all those separate pieces come together is the meaning of the whole seen and recognized.
The elasticity of time keeps a linear order even as some events speed by and others take forever; the plasticity of time enables a constant reordering of experiences to come up with new constructs of reality. Both are correct, both happen simultaneously.