My 15th wedding anniversary is in June. It seems impossible that my husband and I have been together for that long. The first 10 years of our marriage galloped by, or so it seems to me, before we finally had a child. Now my son is turning 5, my parents are elderly, and I’ve been married 15 years. These facts don’t feel real to me, but I guess they are anyway.
My experience of marriage goes like this: You fall in love and “start your life together.” In the constancy of marriage, your perception of the self rests in stasis. Which is to say, you somehow believe you’re in a permanent state of being a young person who’s building something with your partner. Then life events happen—you buy a house, someone dies, your child goes to kindergarten—and you realize that whoops, time has been passing all along. You’re no longer as young, or maybe no longer young at all. Before you can adjust to this new version of yourself, you learn that it too has passed away and you’re something else yet again. You’re shedding selves left and right, and you keep forgetting to notice. Then you’re shocked all over again when you do.
At least, that’s what happens to me.
Dani Shapiro’s lovely memoir Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage examines this passing of time within the confines of matrimony. Shifting deftly between domestic experiences and the journals she kept on her honeymoon, Shapiro explores aging, love, family, career, and most of all, our concept of time. Now in her 50s, she’s both looking back at the woman who got married 18 years ago, and forward to the future.
How do you suppose time works? A slippery succession of long hours adding up to ever-shorter days and years that disappear like falling dominoes? Near the end of her life, Grace Paley once remarked that the decades between fifty and eighty feel not like minutes, but seconds. I don’t know yet if this is the case, but I do know the decades that separate that young mother making her lists from the middle-aged woman discovering them feel like the membrane of a giant floating bubble. A pinprick and I’m back there.
I think about time constantly -- how I should spend it, how much of it has passed, and what I should do with the rest of it. I’m not sure if this obsession is healthy, but it drives me to get things done. Time, after all, is the ultimate precious resource. So it’s necessary to limit social media, for example. No one wants “Checked Twitter A Lot” on her gravestone. My goal is to focus on the things that matter, but it can be hard to define what that is sometimes. There’s always the danger that you’ll invest your time in the wrong thing. You might choose option A when option B may have given you a happier, better life. Who can say?