Unable to sleep, Lyra, who is nine, tells me tonight about how she sees time.
“It’s a rectangle,” she said, “but with round corners. The seasons go around each corner, four seasons and four corners of the rectangle. But they’re not square. And that’s how time works; it keeps going around and around, but some sides are longer and some are shorter, and the corners are curved.
“How does it work for you, mom?”
She’s awake well past her bedtime, which has become the norm. She, like me at her age and for my whole life since then, does not go to sleep early. The earlier she goes to bed, the more anxiety and frustration it creates when she can’t sleep, so she stays up late.
And now she has me thinking about the movement of time.
“I experience it more like a spiral – a kind of erratic orbit,” I tell her. “It’s like I’m always moving in circles through time and space, but it’s never exactly the same as the last time around. Things repeat and change and we go around the seasons and the days and the years and there are places, people, and things that happen to change the path I take; but the base orbit is basically the same.”
She thinks about that for a moment.
“Well, for me it’s a rectangle with rounded edges.”
I nod, and we talk for a few minutes before I say good night and leave her to try and fall asleep. I think about how I wanted to write about repetition tonight, about how when we do the same things over and over they can go from exciting adventures we occasionally get to have to mundane, everyday experiences. I catch the ferry home, and I am bored. Whenever I need a snack I get fries and gravy from the cafeteria. Always the same, but time keeps moving, and the weather has changed, so it’s not truly the same.
Like a round-edged rectangle. Like an erratic, spiralling orbit.