Time is one of life’s biggest contradictions, never passing fast enough when we wish it would, and flying by when we wish it would linger.
The first month of this deployment felt as though it would never end, like I was caught in an eternal March that would never yield to April and the succeeding months. It seemed like the longest month I have ever lived. I felt strangely claustrophobic because it seemed that time had literally stopped, and I was doomed to be away from those I love, and my home, forever.
For deployed soldiers, measuring the passage of time reminds us that the days are actually going by. We mark our physical and mental calendars with big Xs over the days that have passed as proof that time is continuing its course. We use every holiday and birthday and anniversary, any future event, as a measuring stick to gauge the flow of time. Having something to look forward to makes the days seem to go by easier, if not faster.
One of the most anticipated dates during a deployment is the day we get to come home temporarily on environmental morale leave. We silently plead for the days leading up to our leave date to fly by.
When we finally are home on leave, time quickly begins to work against us. Days that once dragged now pass by at dreamlike, dizzying rate. There never seems to be enough time during the short break to do all the things dreamed and planned — never enough time to completely enjoy a simple moment alone with a loved one, or a catch with a son, or a teatime with a daughter, or a chat with an ailing parent or grandparent. Always in the back of our mind is the fact that nothing about leave is permanent.
Almost as soon as leave begins it is over, and the moment arrives for yet another long drive to the airport, another emotional blitzkrieg as goodbyes are expressed, and another long walk through security down to the departure gate. While boarding the plane, we can’t help but think that it seems like only yesterday that leave began.
I wonder if the tendency of time to alternate between dragging on and flying by is less an issue of time than an issue of perception. It is not the actual duration of minutes and hours and days that changes, but our perception of time, dictated by our current state of mind. Days when we feel disconnected or unhappy or alone or afraid seem endless, and days when we feel content and happy and fearless seem to be over in a blink.
The time we have, whether good or bad, happy or sad, satisfying or dissatisfying, is so utterly valuable because it’s not a renewable resource. Time cannot be recycled like a crushed soda can. We will never be reimbursed for even a second of lost time. The only thing left to do is attempt to live contentedly with both good days and bad ones, with long days and those that fly by like a dream, because the day will come when our very lives will seem to have passed by in a dream, only yesterday.
Still, I can’t help but look forward to coming home on leave.