Regardless of race, ethnic origin, economic status, we are all created equal. Each of us has 24 hours each day. Our lives revolve around days and nights. Sleep experts tell us that we have a circadian rhythm of 25 hours a day and that we adapt to the 24 hour system. The fall change to standard time is relaxing, whereas the spring change creates some tension. In the high latitudes there are more problems with the long hours of daylight in summer and darkness in winter.  Above the Arctic Circle you sleep when you are sleepy and wake up at odd hours.

Our bodies have many inner rhythms. They all adapt to the timing we find outside of ourselves. When we hear music we synchronize our own rhythms with what we hear. Music is based on bodily rhythms. The quarter note is quite like the heart beat. When the music plays we walk, move our arms, heads, especially the feet. There is a real exhilaration when the unknowns respond , almost mystically. Dancing is the combining of a hundred rhythms which make for orderly movements we had not thought of. We make these into rituals which become truly emotional.

When we look at a sculpture or painting we move our eyes about it with a rhythm which was carefully contrived by the artist. In the finest art our eyes are drawn from any point completely over the work without leaving out anything. They eyes then reverberate throughout the body if we only let them.

The 24-hour division of the day is purely arbitrary. In illiterate and isolated societies the people do not know about it. They can get along very well, but cannot very well catch a train without knowing the schedule. They usually go to the station armed with pillows, friends, and sandwiches and just wait without worrying very much.

The passage of time is quite psychological. One child of five was heard to reassure a friend that “timeout” of fifteen minutes was not bad inasmuch as his mother had given him fifteen minutes to play before bedtime and it had gone rapidly. Sometimes even five minutes can seem like eternity.

Our lives are bounded by time, yet at any age one’s life seems to be the same length. The years seem much more rapid when one is older. For a child of five a single year is 20 percent of his life. Recorded history seems to begin with one’s birth, everything before that seems quite medieval.

One result of the passage of time is our propensity to think we are the wiser for it. The individual at age 20 is quite sure he is wiser than the one of 10, but does not feel half as wise as the man of 40, and tends to be indulgent toward the oldster of 80. The smartest age, then, is the one you are in. This does not change with time.

Young children under seven or eight have not much conscious sense of time. They want to tell time, but only vaguely. You can tell them that supper will be ready when the big hand gets to the six, but they won’t watch it for any long period. They live in an eternal present. This is one of the things one can learn from children. They have excellent memories, photographic memories in the earliest ages, but they usually only recall former experiences when they can enlighten the present. Otherwise why bother? A few months ago is similar to a few weeks ago. Years ago is only the dim past.

When you take a small child to school and go away, that child trusts that you will eventually return, but since his sense of time is not yours he has no notion of how long he must wait and it is quite impossible for you to explain. When you go out telling the child you will be only a half-hour it means very little. Any intelligent child knows that something might happen, and occasionally it does. All children have a gnawing fear of losing a parent. The story of Cinderella persists throughout the ages.

Children resent being hurried or being bored, as do we all, but they cannot easily rise above it. It is the cause of many tantrums Their inner rhythms are slower than those of adults in many respects. They love to speed up and slow down as a means of testing them. Their minds are always on their own development, physically and mentally. They are always trying something new, always trying to attain or perfect some skill. The idea of the constriction of time is repugnant. They do not even want to stop an interesting activity for dinner, much less for going to bed.

Adults take the sense of time for granted, as will the children, but not now. They will lose something when they do. We live by the clock, we adjust ourselves to it. To be late is a social sin and there is no way we can explain this to otherwise intelligent offspring. We know their natural rhythms are slower, but what can we do when it is time to go? The best mode of action is to prepare the children well in advance, to give them more time to think about it that we would need. We can let them help get ready with an activity that won’t take too long.

Attention span is one of the problems of timing. When we begin a project it needs to be planned and proper time allotted. It might be drawing a picture or tuning up the car. If it is the latter we cannot afford to stop in the middle when we come to the end of our attention rope, whereas in the former it can be done. Children do not understand this, so to tell a child that a task must be completed in one sitting is unrealistic. Children try something, fail, and try again constantly.   They seem to know when to quit and try again later, but not always. Adults, with all our time sense, are not as good at it. My own attention span is about one hour for listening to a lecture, but it varies widely. When attention begins to wander one must be ready for it., otherwise all sorts of irrational behavior sets in. Children are apt to burst forth, and we wonder why our precious darlings are such barbarians.

When you have no sense of time you can enjoy the sunsets, the snow on the mountains, the lapping of the waves. When you have no sense of time you can carry a pail of water to the sink, go back for more until you are sure you can do it, or reach the end of your attention span. You can wash a table over and over whether it is clean or not. You can take off your shoes and put them on again forever without feeling any pressure to hurry. You can throw a ball into a basket all afternoon. The adult obsession with time is completely abstruse.

Adults fear the wasting of time. They do things which save it, such as rushing through the yellow traffic lights. This is a completely incomprehensible idea to children.

Adults live side by side with creatures of an earlier sensitive period. It is easy to be impatient with the work they have to do when you know how important yours is. You have forgotten how they feel. Because you have “outgrown” these attitudes you tend to think theirs is of less value. Don’t try to change them. All these things have a purpose. You yourself are the result of just such activity, just such behavior, just such manias.


by Marietta Rawson