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The mystery of "time that flies"

Published December 12. 2011 11:25AM

For years I've pondered a mystery that plagues me more as each year passes: Why does time fly by faster when we're older?

Common sense tells us it doesn't. Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day, regardless of age. But in reality, that doesn't appear to be true.

When I was a kid in Algebra class, the 45-minute period lasted at least a week and a half. I was sure the seconds of the clock never moved and time was frozen in place.

Back then, my dad had a different concept of time. I can remember sitting with dad in a small jon boat out in the middle of a bay as we spent the day fishing together. I loved those trips with him and valued our time to talk together.

But one time he told me something strange that I didn't believe.

"Time doesn't move the same way for you as it does for me," he said. "The older you get, the faster time flies."

If my dad said something, I thought it had to be true. But not for a minute could I believe time goes faster for some than it does for others.

Ironically, it wasn't until I retired myself that I learned the truth behind dad's theory on time. Retirement is supposed to be the season of life when we have time for all the things we couldn't do when we were working. But the cruel hoax is that someone shortens your days when you retire.

Why else would so many of us retirees have to keep saying, "I don't have time."

When I was working and heard retirees say they didn't have time for something, I thought one of two things was possible: Either that person wasted a lot of time or they had no idea how to organize a day.

Like every other working woman, I managed to work a full day, run countless errands, take care of the kids, shop, cook dinner and still have time to socialize with friends at night. Yes, I complained about "having no time for myself." But I got it all done.

So, what happened when retirement kicked in and gave me the gift of time for myself? The truth is, I soak it up like a greedy kid in a candy store, stuffing myself with one fun activity after another.

While I am having this fun, I realize I am making a conscious decision for how I want to spend my time. I am also conscious of the fact that I want to turn into an old person who thinks her schedule is crammed if she has a doctor's appointment and a social engagement on the same day.

I never wanted to be a retiree who said, "I don't have time." But I found those words creeping more and more into my vocabulary.

"Why is it," I asked my husband, "I never seem to get the same amount of stuff done that I did when I was working?"

He says it's because we're slower as we age. I don't like to accept that fact. I think time flies faster now because my days are shorter.

When I was a working woman, it wasn't unusual to be washing a load of clothes at 11 o'clock at night. Nor was it unusual to be in the middle of a major cleaning project at that hour. Now, when it gets dark, I stop working. Darkness now seems to smother my motivation.

Yet, none of that explains why time flies faster with each passing year.

Writer Derek Dunn-Rankin has an interesting theory about "real time." He believes time contracts as you get older.

"The math is fairly simple," he says. "Multiply the 24-hour day by 10 and then divide by your age."

"For a five-year-old, there are 48 hours in a day. For a ten-year old, there are 24 hours. For a 60-year-old, there are just four real time hours in a day."

OK, what's your theory? Does time fly faster as we age? Or, do we somehow shrink our own day by our routine or procrastination?

Whatever the cause, I need an excuse why I'm free all day but can't seem to finish my Christmas shopping along with the handmade presents I want to give to my family.

I don't think my family will understand if I tell them there are only four hours of real time in my days.

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