I have learned an awful lot of things this year. I have learned that the moment you leave your hometown and your mind begins to stretch past the old familiar skylines, the world somehow shrinks to the size of a tennis ball and yet expands until an ocean seems like a lightyear wide, I have learned to savour the bittersweet tang a goodbye leaves in your mouth, I have even – although this took much longer – learned not to flinch when perfect strangers move to kiss my cheeks. But above all the many things I’ve learned this year, I have learned about time.
When you begin to pull together the bricks that make up a new life from nothing, time becomes a strangely malleable shadow to your life: people used to say to me, you’ve got loads of time! But I knew that if time kept charging on the way it had in the first few months, I didn’t have much time at all. Time becomes such an abstract concept – how has it been two months, five months, ten months already? And yet how has it only been months? So much has happened, so much has changed, enough experiences to fill a lifetime in such a short span of time.
It’s begun to scare me a little, especially when I realise it’s been over two months since I got home from Greece. Time only really frightens me when it begins to pass by so quickly that it makes me wonder whether it was really there at all – that frightens me very much. When you travel, you become adept at pulling out moments and encapsulating them into photograph-like frames because they are gone so fast: in the months and years that follow you find that you can still recall the sounds and shapes and smells and emotions of the moment without the slightest effort. It isn’t always the moments you think it’ll be. Sometimes you need the rosy sheen of time to realise their surreal perfection. But even when we were there, even as they passed through our fingers like the golden grains of sand under our feet, we knew these moments in Greece were perfect.
They are gone now, left behind in the swirling eddies as time rushes past. But oh, I remember them still. When we were children, life seemed endlessly hovering on the dusky, drowsy horizon; now the passage of time as we have come to know it cut that dream short with a cloud lined in silver. Now life is here, and it’s screaming past in a fantastical, roaring blur of colour.
But we can still pause and we can still say, do you remember? Ah, but do you remember Greece? Do you remember how the breath evaporated from our lungs in one swift gasp when we looked out to the rolling hills of olive groves soaked in evening golden light? Do you remember how there seemed to be nothing else to do other than laugh, when we scrambled over the rocks to find the little cove of yellow sand lapped by clear turquoise waters like we’d seen in pictures? The sun was in our hair and the sand was between our toes, and we lived off fresh seafood that we’d seen swimming in a bucket ten minutes earlier and baklava that oozed honey all over our fingers and faces and two-euro gyros dripping tzatziki and pork. We got drunk and we danced and we woke the next morning to drive over the island through postcard after postcard and this trip, this trip that we had planned for and looked forward to for so long – it was one of those precious times in life when first your expectations are met, and then they are exceeded.
How is it, that all this was more than two months ago? I remember booking the flights months in advance – surely it’s only been a few weeks, surely it wasn’t very long ago! I remember setting my day count until May 17th, and thinking, as a child does, it’ll NEVER get here. That’s AGES away, how am I going to wait that long?!
So when I think of it now, it frightens me a little. You have heard people say that time flies but I think that’s an understatement. I think time rockets. Time barrels. I think there are no words that can describe just how quickly time goes by, the way it is so clever, the way it makes a big show of dragging its feet and digging its heels in, and all the while it’s sprinting behind your back faster than the ripple of lightning through the sky, gone so fast you’re not even sure you saw it at all. I think by that time in the year, we’d got used to this. We all understood the menace and the angel of time: you come to terms with it, after a while of living in its shadow. Time’s relentless march brings you happiness and it’s the same march that takes that happiness away, only to bring new happiness in its place. Sometimes, it seems nothing can ever be as good as the present. Sometimes I still can’t believe that anything will ever be as good as that octopus on the beach in Greece. But we looked at each other so many times on that trip and in this year, and we just shook our heads and grinned. We understood, wordlessly, that for a plethora of reasons we’d each remember these moments for as long as time would let us, as long as we possibly could.