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If you’re like me—and apparently, to my surprise, you are, every one of you—you find yourself rather surprised that we are now entering the year 2015. Indeed, this date sounds unfathomably and weirdly futuristic, and suggests we live in Skypad Apartments, work for Spacely Space Sprockets, commute to work in aerocars, and have a robot maid named Rosie. Or in a less Rosie future, HAL is telling us that the mission is too important to allow Dave to jeopardize it. And yes, roll that one around in your mind a bit. Because that was supposed to happen in 2001. And it is now—
No. Stop. It cannot be. It is still 1989. And you cannot convince me otherwise.
I have a very dear friend whom I’ve known since I was 19. And stop, again, right there, because—as we remarked when we spoke on the phone the other day—that means we have known each other for 27 years. And this means we knew each other well before I was born, because I am 22. But we met when I was 19. So the math is not quite adding up.
Stick with me.
My friend went on to become an extremely successful psychotherapist. He’s one of the few members of that profession, by the way, to whom I would confidently send a friend who is in emotional distress and expect something good to result of it. In a field littered with cranks and quacks, he is neither. He’s deeply thoughtful about human nature, remarkably insightful, and above all, totally no-nonsense. It’s not, after all, an accident that we’re still friends after 27 years.
Nor is it an accident that in his midlife (which is an odd thing for him to be in at the age of 19), he trained to be a magistrate. It would take some time to explain that term, but suffice to say it’s a judicial position that originated in a 1327 Act calling for “good and lawful men” to be appointed to “guard the Peace.” Today, such good and lawful men determine punishments in cases of theft, criminal damage, and public disorder; and send cases such as rape and murder to the Crown Court for trial.
When I say “no-nonsense,” I mean this: It would be a grave error for a mugger or a drunk driver to petition my my friend (or “Your Worship” as he would be known in that context) for leniency on the grounds that he’d had a troubled childhood. My friend has really heard it all, on that score, and he is not the least impressed.
So when he makes an observation about human nature, I tend to take it more seriously than I would most people’s casual thoughts on the matter. He’s seen it all, and he’s studied and considered it carefully—and this from many different angles. Thus when I said rather casually that while I knew I was 46, it really didn’t feel all that different to me from being 22—or at least, not as different as I expected it would—his was more than a casual response.
He said that this is what everyone feels. Everyone. Literally.
He’s looked at that question quite closely. Everyone he has asked—and he has asked many people—feels that time somehow stopped, in some important way, in their mid-twenties. Children and teenagers feel they’re the age they are. So do people in their early twenties. But after that, the passage of time stops making sense. People find themselves shocked that they met 27 years ago, even though nothing about that should shock them, because they did indeed meet 27 years ago. Yet that seems so weird. And how could it be 2015? I am willing perhaps to believe that he and I met many years ago, but I refuse resolutely to believe we are in the year 2015.
I wondered aloud why this was so. My first thought was that of course I’d prefer to believe it was 1989. What a great year that was, after all. The Berlin Wall came tumbling down. We all spoke in total earnestness about the End of History. I was a young woman surrounded by young men—and surrounded by five times as many of them, too, because Balliol College had only recently begun admitting women, and these in rather small numbers, as something of an unwelcome experiment. I earnestly believed there was an important connection between my ability to do the sorts of things that resulted in my being there and some rosy outstretched future in which I’d surely be able to earn a living—and that part I just took for granted—and a greatness of some indeterminate but certain sort that surely lay ahead of me. The details of the future were vague in my mind (beyond the idea that we’d be jetting to work in aerocars and I would be very wealthy and successful and so would the rest of the world), but I was sure it would all be good. What wasn’t to like? So of course that’s why my sense of time got stuck there, I proposed.
No. I was wrong, he said. He had asked this of people in their 40s, their 50s, their 70s, and their 90s. They almost universally said they felt themselves to be of an age somewhere between 23 and 29, and almost never offered an age over 30. He was clear: He had surveyed in his clinical work a great many men and women who had not one good reason to feel nostalgic about that time of their lives, neither personally nor in terms of general global events. But that was always where their sense of time got stuck.
He suspected the real reason for this had something to do with brain development He wasn’t sure how it worked, but reckoned that as the brain matures into its fully adult state, it stops processing “time” the way a younger brain does.
Interesting, I thought. Interesting enough to make me wonder: Members of Ricochet, how old do you feel you are?
And what year do you feel it is?
In any case, happy new year, Ricochet! May this year bring you joy, peace, prosperity, fecundity, and every success you wish and more. Me, I plan to celebrate tonight.
I’m going to retire early for a quiet evening with a nice cup of tea and party like it’s 1989.