Wisdom of the Ages: How Time Changes

Martin Luther King, Jr.


Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day to those of us in the States. I realize a lot of (white) people view this as just another holiday from work, but I’ve always seen it as something more. I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned it here, but I received exposure to racism at a very early age; I had the audacity to befriend an African American boy who moved into the neighborhood that year, and we both ended up paying a price for it. I didn’t even really see him as different – our family had moved to a new neighborhood from one that had a decent amount of minorities. My best friend to that point had been a Mexican boy. You can imagine my shock and surprise at the whole thing, not to mention my anger at the unfairness of it all.


I thought the kid – his name is long lost to the mists of time as the family moved not long after – would be a great fit in the neighborhood, as he liked a lot of the same things that the rest of us liked. Now granted, this would have been 1981; the Civil Rights Act was only 17 years old and we were in the rural south, but STILL. These were other kids, not adults. I just did not and could not understand the mentality. Seeing that ugliness in action formed the genesis of my lifelong dedication to equality in this country, and it’s something that I remember every MLK Jr. Day. I would take this day off in honor of the man and the principles for which he stood, regardless of whether my job gave it to me or not.



Now that trip down memory lane is just the starting point for something that struck me in the shower this morning. I often think about how much time has passed between a certain event and the present day; just this morning I was ruminating on the fact that over 30 years have passed since those incidents, and realized that 30 years prior to that it was 1951 and America was a very different place. I’ve felt some distress at the fact that 1981 doesn’t seem that long ago when 1951 felt impossibly ancient in 1981. I know part of that is just being a kid and having less of a frame of reference for the passage of time, but it’s only part of it – or rather, that’s all of it, but it’s not inclusive of why that is the way it is and what it means.


I know that we perceive time as faster once we get older, because a year is so much less of a percentage of our lives to that point. A year to a four-year-old is a quarter of his or her life, where nine years is a quarter of my life, making a year to them equivalent to nine years for me. That seems about right on the scale of things, but it also points out an extreme difference in the perception of time and our realization of it. My dismay came from a desire to cling to that old reference level – clearly I was losing touch with reality and becoming “one of them” by seeing time in this way, but I think the reality is more that the older a person gets, they develop an even better feel for time. Yes, Einstein taught us that time is relative, and perception is everything, but on some level there is an “absolute” time as there is an “absolute” space, and I believe that we get a little closer to that “absolute” time as we age, understanding just how brief our time on Earth really is.


That’s the rub of my own realization this morning, not that I’m somehow becoming an old fart, or whatever the young mind thinks of older people, rather that I’m becoming more attuned to the true scale of time in our universe. It seems like a fine point, but it kind of blew my mind. I couldn’t say whether that ties into the wisdom that folks are supposed to gain as they age, but it certainly seems to be the case.



Something to think about if you’re my age (or even older), in 1983:


  • Reagan introduced Star Wars (not the movie).
  • Motown turned 25 and Michael Jackson introduced us to the Moonwalk.
  • The Beirut Embassy bombing killed 63 people.
  • Sally Ride became the first woman in space.
  • Return of the Jedi released.
  • Vanessa Williams became the first African-American Miss America.
  • Kiss lost the makeup.
  • MLK Jr Day is officially mandated; the first celebration will be the following year.


So, yes, some interesting things to look back upon. In some ways this feels like yesterday; in others it feels like forever. Anyone else have memories of 83 that they’d like to share?


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  1. I became aware of REM in 1983. That’s a musical group, not a sleep pattern (for you youngsters) — sleep patterns were not on my mind in 1983. I also became obsessed with Dire Straits. (Did I spell that right? With increased perception of time comes diminished memory.)

  2. Valentina Tereshkova was in space in 1963, how that Sally Ride became “the first woman in space” in 1983?

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