Women and Time
by Carol Smallwood
A recent documentary about the unexplained disappearances of planes and boats in the Bermuda Triangle included one theory of a time warp. Time is so pervasive—and as incomprehensible as the force of gravity even though we define it many times a day such as the 3 Minute Egg, Open 24/7, “Time is money.” Split second decisions impact lifetimes.
Women, I believe, have a closer affinity to time because of what is called “that time of the month” by some. In pregnancy, time is counted by months, labor by minutes: a biological clock ticks to have children. The bulk of attention to women (including the number of assaults) is in their prime, early child bearing years, even though women live longer in actuarial life tables. Perhaps monthly cycles give us a sense that everything’s in flux as we revolve on a planet that’s still forming; women are also better at multi-tasking.
I’ve tried to capture imperceptible proof of time when the first object in my room takes shape at dawn, torn between meeting a new day without being able to sleep, hoping the outline is but a mirage. Time is a slippery, chimerical companion exasperating to understand as one gets older and no closer to wisdom long thought to accompany age.
I have a windup grandfather clock with a dial for seconds that chimes quarter hours with bronze etched continents and constellations; my other clocks run by battery, electricity, or computer. If most say the same time, I assume (after glancing out the window and consulting my inner clock) it is that time.
In high school I was required to take home economics and was shown how to break eggs before adding them to mixing bowls to avoid egg shells in food. I still use Clabber Girl Baking Powder with the label of a smiling girl carrying a plate of plump biscuits with a family in the background: the can with the big red lettering is what good housekeepers have in their cupboard like a Good Housekeeping Seal. In class we also learned to look your best in time for your husband to come home and to only talk about pleasant things. What colors were your best, the woof and weave of cloth, following patterns to sew. I already knew from my mother that white shoes were not worn after Labor Day or before Memorial Day.
In the 1960’s women were expected to be married by 21 and I was considered over the hill waiting until 24. Time stood still one spring when love, that so longed for, imagined state, found me; I just learned that the band of gold associated with marriage is metal shattered from the death of stars, fragments landing on earth so long ago. How can one really grasp the distance of light years?
Time also stood still when my son asked me why the sky was blue; when my daughter about the same time and on the same beach chanted “right is wrong, wrong is right” when my marriage was crumbling. Mortality became more tangible when my children reached adolescence ,which was followed by my menopause. As it did when being told my chances of surviving cancer was 17%.
Aging arrived when people began holding doors open with the smile one gives the old; by clerks offering to carry things for me, and men seeing me as a colleague rather than a possibility. But aging grants more freedom because pleasing others is less important and you question needing to spend one third of your life sleeping now that time has sped up. The scent of burning leaves in the fall evokes swift regrets and you begin to grasp how fortunate it is that the earth is one of eight planets of about 100 that survived orbiting the sun. And wonder if Lao Tzu in the 6th century BC got it right: “Time is a created thing.”