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Paul and Frances Allred lived behind us when my family first moved to Oak Ridge, N.C. Home to mostly tobacco fields, cow pastures and clusters of modest ranch houses, Oak Ridge felt like a time apart from the rest of the world — at least it did to this mop-headed boy of fanciful imagination and more than a touch of mischievousness. The Allreds had retired many years before and enjoyed the easy cadence of Oak Ridge life. Paul collected arrowheads and other Native American tools found on the local lands. He took a special interest in sharing this passion with my older brother, Lee, and me. On spring mornings, he would take us to newly plowed fields to hunt for arrowheads before the crops had been planted. This was but one of many out-of-time childhood experiences further punctuated upon finding one of these precious stones.

The adventures of that young boy soon gave way to adolescence and participation in some of its proscribed rites. Adolescence segued into the independence and exploration of young adult university life, which in turn begot the joys and toils of family and career. Today, my vocation in psychology and counseling has stretched to over 30 years. Now, as I speak blessings to my second daughter, my youngest child, on her way into her world away from home, I remember her earlier years, and I’m reminded of my own youth. As is often the case, many artifacts of our youth, including my small, ruddy collection of arrowheads, were lost along the way.

As I am traversing yet another threshold along the linear time continuum that most of us unwittingly subscribe to, I’m choosing to say yes to time. Not in the aforementioned linearity, wherein time is a quantification, nor in the culturally carved construct that our western, first-world society wields as viable currency. Einstein famously described time in the dimensional form, manifesting in a curved relationship with space. Similarly, many Native American tribes experienced it as circular. I’m not even saying yes to this perspective; at least not in the broad, existential frame. I am choosing to view time as an ally, a friend. In other words, it’s personal.

Ultimately, whether we think of time as abstraction, construct or tool, it is personal to each of us. We are in relationship with time. The character of that relationship is most worthy of deliberate exploration. For much of my adult life, I have perceived time as an adversary, a competitor, or at least an impediment. And yet, it never was time that was the threat. It was unhealthy fear. Unhealthy fear of lost opportunity and relationships. Unhealthy fear of painful rejection. Unhealthy fear of unfulfilled dreams. Under the guise of a type B, take-life-as-it-comes persona, my inner White Rabbit (“I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date!”) waged regular combat. The product of this unholy wrestling has usually been a nice spike of anxiety. While the landscape changes when we cross onto untrodden fields in our lives, we often carry old patterns of perceiving with us. I’d like to change that within myself. I’d like to try walking alongside time rather than trying to outrun it, or seeking to lasso and tether it to a fixed place and experience. Maybe, together, we will find a few more arrowheads, jutting almost imperceptibly up from newly turned soil.

From a neurological point of view, we experience time primarily in the dorsolateral prefrontal right cortex. Basically in our foreheads. Our prefrontal cortices are where much of our executive function resides. This includes our capacity to be present, truly present to our real-time experience. Fortunately, our memories are stored in the hippocampus, buried deep in the lower mid-region of the brain. I like to think that this allows us access, via cerebral cross currents, to the fullest relationship with time. In a manner of speaking, time, and time outside of time, offers me the gift of being present once again, to the here and now, and to one of the simple joys of my childhood. In this moment, it gifts me the chance to say goodbye to my daughter while also saying hello once again to my old friend, Paul.

True friends are loyal and attentive. They honor one another. They don’t insist on their own way, but they are authentic — authentic and open to finding rhythm and presence with one another. May it be so for me and my traveling companion, time.

Hugh Willard

Hugh Willard is a psychotherapist, retirement coach, author and musician.

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