The Mystery of Time

Kårvikhamn, Norway, July 2011:

It’s almost midnight, and I’m hiking down a coastal highway north of the Arctic Circle with seven friends, new and old. I don’t normally hike down highways at midnight, but my son is going to marry his Norwegian girlfriend this week, and her father wants to show us the midnight sun.

Actually, a midnight hike is not such a big deal here. My son’s future mother-in-law treks into the hills at two in the morning to pick cloudberries – which you can do easily this far north in midsummer, because at night, the sky at its darkest is only twilight dim.

So here we are, hiking down the highway. At this time of night, there are no cars on the road. In fact, except for our soft, padding footfalls and quiet conversation, the world around us is settled and hushed. A dreamlike, dusky light softens the landscape. To our left, tall hills rise, steep and shadowed. To our right, fields of wildflowers stretch to the water’s edge, where gentle waves lap at the shoreline.

Our destination is a spit of land that curves out from the shoreline like a finger pointing toward the horizon. The ground there is tumbled with large stones, and each of us chooses one to sit on. As I pull my sweater closer against the chill, hot drinks are passed around – coffee and something stronger for those who want it. I cup my steaming mug in both hands and look to the horizon. We’re just in time to watch the sun slowly lower itself into the sea. After barely dipping below the line where water meets sky, the sun rises again. It’s a new day.

Here on this shoreline, time feels mythical, slanted like sunbeams at midnight. And in this moment, sitting on a stone as the world tips from one day into the next, I am filled with awe at the mystery of time.

* * *

Occasions like weddings, funerals, and births seem to sharpen our focus on what truly matters. At these milestones, we often sense the cosmic nature of our life journey and remember that we’re only a small part of what goes on in this universe. We become aware of a truth: from beginning to end, our time on this earth is very, very brief. I’m awed to think that while I was busy doing who-remembers-what, my toddling sons grew into men with strong strides who now have toddlers of their own.

Human life is a relationship with time. In a sense, time is a god. We’re ruled by it, bow to it, and rely on it as we consult our calendars. Time is a currency – we “spend” it. In fact, we’re rich with it. You and I literally have all the time in the world; no one else owns more minutes than you and I have.

Time doesn’t ask if we want to go for a ride; it just picks us up and carries us along. More than once I’ve remarked, as most of us have, that with every passing year, time seems to go faster. (My older son pointed out that, in a way, that’s actually true. When we’re five, a year is long – one-fifth of our lifetime. When we’re fifty, a year is much shorter – only one-fiftieth of our life.) We measure our presence on earth by time. And some people say of death, “When my time comes . . .” There’s something beautiful about that expression. After death, I guess, we are out of time in every sense of the phrase. We run out, and we are out. Out of time’s confines. Out from under its rule.

I’m approaching time here from a philosophical rather than physics-oriented view in which, according to physicist Carlo Rovelli, time does not truly “flow” but is a “single block of past, present, and future.” The possibilities of that are amazing. The God-possibilities are astounding. But to most of us, time feels like it flows ever forward.

So . . . looking forward, next week, I’ll post more on the mysteries of time and the lifeline I drew in an abstract art class.


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Text and Norway photos © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Other photos courtesy