The Length of a Day

In 1955 The Righteous Brothers lamented that "time goes by so slowly", a concept that has eluded me since high school when it seemed that everything was getting faster with each passing week. The flow of time also increased noticeably when the boy learned how to play. Up until my 43rd birthday an entire week could pass by in what felt like a handful of hours, leaving me to wonder when I might find the time to complete the various projects I had committed to. However, after the family split on April 8th it seemed as though every day contained 30 hours. Then, by the end of last weekend, a single day seemed to contain enough hours to fill a week.

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”
– Albert Einstein (or Helen Dukas1)

One of the oddities that I noticed after returning home from jail last Wednesday was a lack of time perception. We all recognise the feeling of watching a clock and thinking that the second hand has come to a stop or is moving backwards, but this is something I've yet to feel in my house. Over the next few days, time did seem to accelerate again, but it has yet to return to a state where a single day feels like a 24 or 30-hour period. Our perception of time is certainly relative, as the famous quote from Einstein reveals, and this has me wonder whether a person is more productive when time seems to drag on forever.

In March I felt that there was never enough time in the day. I would sit in front of my computer for 10 hours, invest an hour for Nozomi, three hours for the boy, two hours as a family, two hours for whatever demanded attention, then six hours for sleep. However, the days never seemed productive enough. By the end of the evening, I would check in my work for the day job and wonder if the things I just handed in actually needed 10 hours to complete. Now, though, I seem to complete everything I had planned to work on plus a number of additional tasks before lunchtime, then wonder what to do for the rest of the day.

A quick check of reality shows that there are still 24 hours in every day, with each hour consisting of 60 minutes. So how is it that I seem to be so productive now while each minute feels interminable?

The only thing I can think of is that there's less to think about. After Reiko left with our son and Nozomi there was a lot less to occupy my mind. I could focus on communicating with lawyers and neighbours, filling out paperwork, planning for the future, and more. Later, while sitting in a jail cell with little more to do aside from breathe at regular intervals, there was even less going on in the head. Indeed, by the end I was engaged only in a single thought at a time. This allowed for a degree of attention that was once impossible given the myriad of distractions that we all contend with on a daily basis. Gone were the electronic devices. Gone were the other voices. Gone were the colours of objects2 within view. This level of focus is not the same as one might experience when sitting with a loved one or absorbed in an activity, where time moves at a rate far faster than we perceive. Instead it's more like a Zen state; inner peace and calm while engaged in a single effort.

The price paid for this insight has been incredibly high but, if this tranquility can be honed and maintained, I wonder if the endless races against the clock that once defined my days and weeks can remain a thing of the past.

  1. This was Einstein's intermediary, and was likely the person who communicated this idea to the reporters who would often ask questions about relativity.

  2. The cells I resided in were not monochromatic, but they may as well have been.