Water droplets raced across the window as our plane accelerated into the winter night. Flickering outside, a lonely red light blinked against the silhouette of a wing. I couldn’t see the horizon nor the people working on the tarmac. It was in that moment, buckled in place, surrounded by sleeping passengers, suddenly aware of the new year, when I faced an old realization. No matter where I am, I cannot escape the feeling of time flying.
The holidays have flashed by like distant memories. Recollections of dinner, cellphones, food, and gifts, clutter my mind like the discomfort of thinking that the time I’ve spent with loved ones was insufficient. I feel like Jo from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott — a book of familial love and female strength. Jo wants to keep her family close, so when her older sister Meg is whisked away in marriage, Jo resists the change with hopelessness and misplaced anger. Despite her tough exterior, she tears up at the wedding, and eventually, yet joyfully, celebrates the milestone with an intimate party with close friends and family.
There’s so much I could say about the book, like how it’s a classic children’s novel originally published in 1868, based on real characters from Alcott’s life, and how the writing is dialog-heavy and uses an abundance of adverbs, teaching me that a good story can be told in many ways; but one of the main things I love is how it captures the beauty and conflict within everyday life. We see Jo and her sisters chase their dreams and grow into womanhood. They get tangled in pride, hurt feelings, make mistakes, but they always return to each other—wiser and more resilient. I love how they spend their days painting, reading, cooking, and sewing, visiting the beach, helping neighbours, and telling stories around the fireplace. These are the domestic tasks that I once belittled. I once thought that it was more important to be in the world and make a name for myself, but what am I trying to prove? After years of being in the competitive university system, all I now want is to be a little lady at home doing domestic tasks, or things that make time feel slower. (Little Women is free on Apple Books to download, if you’re interested.)
The experience of fleeting time only adds to the longing to stay where I am. People around me are changing—for example, my little brother and his recent romances, which I won’t disclose but feel free to ask him yourself—and I feel like an old parent clinging to youthfulness for as long as they can. Recently, I took a walk through the empty streets of Southern California, finding fruit trees I haven’t seen before, and a bag of potatoes hidden behind a bush. Cars rushed past and I walked forward, but the palm trees stayed deeply planted, and the blue sky endlessly vast. I felt like a child without any sense of time. Even if the people around me change into older, busier, perhaps grumpier forms of themselves, I hope that I stay constant in joy and gratitude.
I don’t know many people who exist in a state of slowness. I don’t mean physically slow, but a “mindfulness”—to use common psychological terms—that is unbothered by the future nor haunted by the past. You can identify these people because when you meet them, you feel refreshed even though nothing miraculous has been seen or said. I think children have this ability. Adults are obsessed with clocks and calendars and being “on time,” which I refer to in a metaphorical sense of accomplishment. But children? They’re not worried about anything. My niece and nephew have shown me this, and they’re two of the happiest people I know. (They also only eat, poop, play, and sleep for most of the day. My heros.)
I don’t want to live in the narrative that life only gets worse with age. An older acquaintance once told me, “Learn from your mistakes. Don’t dwell on them.” This phrase has stuck with me since I heard it years ago. It has freed me to move forward without fear about what will happen. Nelson Mandela once said, “I don’t ever lose. I either win or I learn.” (that’s my guy!!! triple exclamation mark!!! and the mentality I’m carrying into 2022). We thought the world was going to end in 2012. We thought the pandemic would be over by now. It’s better to let go of expectations and just live fully each day, gaining wisdom as life moves on. After all, time moves forward, it does not wait for us to catch up.
I see time as a gift. I cherish the seconds not because they are running out, but simply because I have been given them. I reject the common perspective of success being defined by wealth and accomplishments, and choose peace instead. I’m not pressuring myself to change, to grow, or to accomplish. I don’t think it’s good to force it. The years when I tried so hard to be better were exhausting. Rather, I am in surrender to life, aware of but not hindered by any toxicity or challenge, and letting the growth happen naturally. For me, faith is essential.
This was one of the hardest posts to write, because time is confusing, and so are my thoughts. Writing is a laborious task and I’ve written and deleted hundreds of words before this draft. I wish I could tell you more stories and I’m sorry if this has read like a rant, but I’m growing impatient and will probably go on a bike ride now. To the person making resolutions for the new year, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t meet your expectations. I planned to write weekly, but here I am one month later finally posting something mildly coherent.
But I’m still here, and that’s what matters.
Elisa is a Vietnamese-Canadian writer and editor. Her work focuses on familial love, self-discovery, and immigrant experiences.