The Donny Osmond version remains in the mind: ‘The Twelfth of Never’. 1973, I think it was. The declaration of undying love wasn’t really rooted in chronological time though, was it? It wasn’t a case of the young pin-up making a lifelong commitment, at least it didn’t seem like that. It was more that the moment was one outside of time, a moment that would remain there long after chronological years and human decay have swept away whatever there was between the lover and his beloved.
Isn’t that what it was about? Aren’t there different sorts of time?
A neighbour in the North, in the 1990s, sat drinking a mug of tea on his 80th birthday, “Do you know, Ian? if I had known I was going to live to 80, I would probably have lived my life in a very different way”. It would have been intrusive to have asked what he might have done differently; it seemed unclear whether the statement was a statement of regret or just a detached philosophical comment. Having served through the Second World War, his life would have been lived through those years with an intensity unknown in peacetime; was he saying that had he known he would live more than fifty years beyond the end of the war, then his life would have been more relaxed, more easy going? How many people are there who live lives of ease who reach a particular point and say, “I wished I had done more with those years”.
The same chronological sequence, the same period of years through which two different people live may seem very different lengths time. Chronologically, there is no doubt that the time period has been identical, but qualitatively the periods may seem hugely different. There can be those “Twelfth of Never” moments, occupying perhaps only a short time, perhaps only days, that fill the whole landscape when the years are viewed in retrospect. A single moment can change the nature of a year, of a decade even.
There are times inside of time and times outside of time. The times inside of time are always brief.
There is a moment in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings when it emerges that Elrond, the elven king, is six thousand years and, if at heart you are still a fifteen year old, you think, ‘Imagine living six thousand years!” But even elves only achieve immortality by sailing West to the Grey Havens; and what is six thousand years in the big scheme of things? Chronological times are brief, finite. Even if you understood Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and were able to travel at the speed of light, so slowing down the passing of time, you would still come to an end eventually.
It’s the times outside of time that last. Reflecting on the word ‘everlasting’ in this evening’s contemplation at church, there was the realisation that the word points to the times beyond time; that human language can only hint at moments beyond. Donny was right; it is those moments that count.