A Two-Minute Speech on Time

Megan E. McKenzie

Living & Dying

I’ve never had a big, empty stage all to myself before.  It’s a big, vacant stage, really; it looks empty, but it is only artificially so. Underneath the fresh coat of paint it holds all the old dirt and holes, scratches and marks and gestures and breaths from people past. History.

I read once that no history of anything will ever contain more than it leaves out. It’s true. People have tried, can try, and will try again. But it’s true.

So I’ve got this big vacant stage with History. I suppose this stage, as it is now, will be History too soon enough. And my dirt and holes and scratches and marks, the words that I say and the space that I take up, will be broken down and gone over with a fat brush, and they’ll say, “Wow, that stage was dirty,” or “Look at this big, empty stage I’ve got all to myself.”

And now I’ve got less than two minutes all to myself on this stage, which is hardly enough time to explain. But time’s like that, you know? You breathe in and you live and you love and you fight and fight hard to live and love as much as you can in the time you’ve got—then you breathe out.  Soon enough someone will write the books, and maybe they’ll leave you out, their words the fat brush that paints over you, concealing your history from just about everyone. So we all stand up here and fight to make a scratch or a mark deep enough that it can’t be ignored in the hope that someday someone will see it and say, “Wow, she lived hard,” or “Man, what a fight,” and that you will live on in their contemplation. And it doesn’t matter that they don’t understand yet, because they will…in time. Each man will learn what he can from histories and History, and the concerned man will be met with the same fate as one who pays no attention and lives in time as if each moment was the most important moment of his life, thinking nothing of the little scratch or mark he makes on the floor as his feet stride across it, jubilant in his ahistorical bliss.

The funny thing is that Time is so finite and also infinite; we feel it intensely in both its expansiveness and constraint, and yet it is intangible. It is all I can do not to laugh when I think of how much and how little time I have, how I’ll probably have just as much as Michelangelo or Camus or Picasso, and how I’ll never feel as though I’ve done enough, fought hard enough, dug deep enough for History to remember all the time I spent here.

And then, maybe I should laugh—when we are constantly confronted with an endless hourglass and somehow sand runs low, what else can we do?  Why not laugh?  I spend so much time slaving away and putting on masks to make this scratch and that mark that I rarely let my true self, whatever that is these days, loose; I rarely let myself run free enough to just throw my head back and laugh. But why? Because it takes too much time? All we’ve got is Time, until we don’t anymore. Use it up, be free, laugh if you can. Because, life? It’s not that serious.

—Columnist Megan E. McKenzie can be reached at mckenzie@fas.harvard.edu

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