According to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, what seemed to be an absolute value in the world of physics would be in reality relative. Depending on the speed and the gravitational field, time can dilate or on the contrary contract. One week for one can be one day for another. A month can change into years. One minute, one century.
The perception of time is also relative. Einstein said it himself: “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.” If I never experimented in a conscient way time relativity on a physical level, those last few months made me realize how time can be a matter of perception.
Far from the people you love, from your comfort zone, when you start to miss your old life, weeks can turn into years. This is what I felt during the last days before going back to France for the holidays. I was only expecting one thing: being able to hear my mother’s voice again, hug my best friends, kiss the one I love. The days never ended. I counted the months, the weeks, the days until I could get into the plane I had been waiting so long for.
I arrived in France. Two weeks that could have been two hours. Because there is the trick: the moments of inactivity, of waiting, seem to last forever. But the happy ones, they slip away in the blink of an eye.
It’s been almost three months since I started my volunteering project in Ukraine. To put words on this experience is complicated, I don’t have any step back, only my biased perception to lead me.
In the hard moments, it is easy to find refuge in a past that seems prettier, in a hypothetical present we imagine more pleasant. We get away from reality, we count the days until a future we hope will be easier, a future that will disappear in a snap. We forget to live the only thing we will ever be able to experiment fully: the present. The past only exists in our heads. Its reality is not tangible, it is only a perception, a fake perception distorted by a comforting nostalgia. Because the past is not necessarily better than what we are currently living. In the same way, nothing indicates the future will be easier than the present. The only thing one can be sure of is the present, the events we experiment day after day.
According to Epictetus, all is a matter of perception. Happiness only depends on us; our sadness resides in the judgment we carry on external events. If we are indifferent to causes beyond our control, the sadness will never reach us. I find in the philosophy some comfort. If our happiness only depends on us, it depends on our choice to modify our perception of events beyond our control. In the same way, our perception of time only resides on our choice to live the present moment instead of trying to find some comfort in a fantasized past or a hypothetical future.
Time passes, no matter what we do. And to wish to go back in time, forward in the future, or to stop the present is to refuse to live. If we cannot change our situation, we must keep in mind that time, even if it is relative, is an unstoppable force. Not everything has to last, not even the good moments. Because the fact that they are ephemeral makes them more valuable.