What Time is it For You?

My dad shared a passage from a book that contemplates life and the concept of time. It is from the Russian novel Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. A Ukrainian Jew, Grossman was rejected for military service in WWII and became a military reporter for the Soviet Union, spending over 1,000 days on the front lines. He saw some of the worst fighting and atrocities on the Eastern Front. The novel follows the story of a disaffected physicist caught between two totalitarian states. I have started reading it, and it is a complex and thoughtful novel that takes on the themes of oppression and state rule, goodness in humanity, and the fact that—no matter how terrible an event, like the Holocaust or Soviet persecution—life goes on.

The passage my dad flagged for me—if taken out of the context of the novel—is quite fascinating. Grossman writes about the nature of time and a human’s place in it. We have heard the cliché, “A man of his time.” This typically describes someone who is aware of changes in their life and is able to adapt and/or change their thinking and action to meet the moment.” We also know of the expression “time has passed him by”—referring to the idea that one has not adapted. 

Grossman writes:

“Time is a transparent medium. People and cities arise out of it, move through it, and disappear back into it. It is time that brings them and time that takes them away. But the understanding that had just come to Krymov [one of the novel’s characters] was a very different one: the understanding that says, ‘This is my time,’ or, ‘No, this is no longer our time.’ Time flows into a man or State, makes its home there and then flows away; the man and the State remain, but their time has passed. Where has their time gone? The man still thinks, breathes, and cries, but this time, the time that belonged to him, and to him alone, has disappeared. 

“There is nothing more difficult than to be a stepson of the time; there is no heavier fate than to live in an age that is not your own. Stepsons of the time are easily recognized: in personnel departments, party district committees, army political sections, editorial offices, on the street . . . Time loves only those it has given birth to itself: its own children, its own heroes, its own labourers…

“Such is time: everything passes, it alone remains; everything remains, it alone passes. And how swiftly and noiselessly it passes.

“Only yesterday you were sure of yourself, strong and cheerful, a son of the time. But now another time has come—and you don’t even know it.”

I am going to come back to this theme later in the year. In the year 2023 and for the next few decades, this will be the time of our students and children. They will grow up in a world that is fast changing. Developments that will leave many of us adults behind—like Artificial Intelligence or enduring political dysfunction (let’s hope I am wrong)—are things we never had to confront. Can we older people adapt? What about our students when they grow up, and time seems to catch up with them?

The power of education is that it gives all of us the tools to be of any time. By living our mission of being curious, we become life-long learners. I remember seeing my 80-year-old grandfather getting into computers (and even computer games) when home computing became a thing. He never stopped reading or trying to understand the world. When I think about the concept of time and school life, I often think of life at Colorado Academy in some type of time-lapse video. I see buildings staying static, but students and faculty flowing through over the years. It’s a constant rush of activity, throughout the days and years. Conversations, laughter, tears, joy, sadness—all the range of human interactions and emotions taking place. And yet, time moves on. Students graduate. Faculty retire. Change is constant, but at the core is a commitment to learning and growth that spreads far outside our campus boundaries.