There is a psychological theory that half of our “experienced lives” are over by the time we are 19 years old. This is not to say that everyone will die at 38, but that a person who lives until the typical old age would sense that their life prior to 19 elapsed a similar duration to their life thereafter. This asymmetry is believed to be the outcome of our constantly-increasing familiarity with time itself. To a 10-year-old, a year is a monumental 10 percent of their life. For my grandparents, a year is often how long they go without seeing some of their grandchildren.
This subjective “halving” of our lives suggests that time marginally diminishes in significance as we experience more of it. A child’s personality, worldviews and such can change drastically over the course of a year, whereas those of an older person are more rigid. While some may hold that there are entirely physical explanations for this, such as decreased neuroplasticity, it seems that all variables fixed, a year would mean more to an being that has existed for five years than one that has existed for a hundred. From economics, we know that a second slice of pizza would have less to offer than the first. It doesn’t seem illogical to assume that our intuitions toward what we experience also apply to time.
When I describe time to a younger person as relatively more meaningful, I’m denoting not just the time itself in the abstract, but the events that transpire over that length of time. After all, time is not understood as an ethereal abstraction, but sensed through the physical happenings of our world. And so, for every abstract reference I make to time is merely a placeholder for an actual event: events that correspond in significance with their proximity to our birth.
While none of this insight may seem particularly novel, it nonetheless lends an urgency to, well, everything. I learned this recently upon reconstructing my memories of my younger sister’s stunt performances. It has been important part of her high school life, which is now ending as she readies herself for college, and it occurred to me that I haven’t ever seen her perform stunts with her team in-person. Instead, I’ve constructed my entire impression of this part of her identity through videos taken of her on my parents’ iPhones. The mediated, blue-tinted pixels are obviously just a rendering, useful to jog one’s memory of an experienced event, but ultimately not intended to create an original one. It was when I was halfway through a video of her latest performance as my younger sister and I were catching up one day recently that I suddenly understood in a visceral, applied sense how the years can gather velocity. In putting off my attendance at her performances, always dismissively assuming I would be uninterested in those of other teams on the program, I may have inadvertently forsaken possible, meaningful memories.
With my junior year nearing its completion and the opinionated, political attitude that prompted this column slackening with exhaustion, I find myself reflecting on the ways I may have misdirected these finite college years. Looking back, I can’t help but particularly regret allowing distance, both literal and figurative, to dismantle relationships that were once important — or, in the case of even those that weren’t especially close, at least meaningful. And while the opportunities, in other aspects of life, that I failed to pursue can ultimately be reflected upon as necessary lessons for growth, most of us can’t help but simply harbor feelings of regret.
But, regret can be a helpful sign of our identities’ progression, demonstrating that whereas your prior actions may have accorded with your prior character, the latter has shifted with time. The power of regret is when it is felt most strongly, it almost always signals an evolution rather than devolution in who we are. Indeed, in coloring the past with negative judgement, we further scrutinize who we once were, and further become who we want to be. And, comfortingly, for every moment that disappears in retrospect, a new one presents itself, inviting our active participation in creating the memory through which we will later experience it.
Memories of our time at school will collide and merge and become distorted in ways we cannot control but will nonetheless remain a crucial, foundational part of our character, significant in ways that the future simply cannot. As the GroupMes for the cliques we carved out and the clubs we joined eventually become outdated, and as my sister moves from describing her time on her high school stunts team in the present tense to the past, at least even that which is most uncomfortable to reflect upon signals growth. If the discomfort with which we recall is proportional to the extent to which we have changed, then at least we may quietly find some respite knowing that the project of our individual identity must therefore be ultimately oriented toward some form of progression.
Lorenzo Benitez is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not a Cop appears alternate Mondays this semester.