Talking About Time and Sleep
Pablo Neruda wrote: “How much does a man live after all? Does he live in 1,000 days or one only? For a week or several centuries? How long does a man spend dying? What does it mean to say forever?
Einstein says the time depends on the observer. He also says that there is no absolute measure of time. We understand the passage of time through our personal experiences. One way we measure time is by the second. Another one second doesn’t sound like much does it? But seconds add up. There 60 seconds in a minute, 2,600 seconds in an hour, and 6,400 seconds in a day. In five years you if you have a total of—give or take—156,489,000 seconds. Sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? And it is, but only relative to what you are doing and how you’re spending this measure duration of time.
Let’s talk of a certain kind of time; let’s talk of doing prison time, which is slow time, dead time. Sometimes you would swear it is stop time. Imagine doing 156 million-plus seconds, or five years, second-by-second in a state prison. This can seem like forever. Then there is sleep time. Serving five years, you will sleep for about 52 million seconds.
But the problem is you do not sleep very well in prison. You wake up in the night and realize that you are sleeping on the fire retardant mattress on a metal frame, which is secured to cinderblock wall in a cell, in a prison, and you finally grasp that you were going to be there for long time. You count the years. You count the seconds. You touch the cinderblock wall. It’s cold. It sweats. You think about where you are and why you are the there, and you think about how much time you have left to go before they let you go. And you lie there touching the cinderblock wall. And you sigh your sigh of sighs, and you count the years, count the months, count the days, the hours, the seconds, gone by and to come.
You toss and turn. You try to get back to sleep. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes in the middle of the night you get up walk across your cell to look out of the sliver of shatterproof glass that passes as a window, and you see the yard—a no-man’s land. Beyond the yard is the fence; atop the fence is barbed wire. Patrol cars with armed guards circle the perimeter of the prison all night long. Beyond the fence are the lights of cars on the highway, heading north, heading south. You try to take a deep breath, but there’s no air in the cell. You can’t breath, so you splash cold water on your chest, and you know then that you do not want to die in this place. Time passes so slowly you could almost scream, but you don’t. Finally you fall asleep. Nighttime passes. Morning comes. Sleep time is over for now. Daytime begins.
One morning day you wake up and look in the mirror and you see gray hair, crow tracks under your eyes. You see the old man inside of you waiting to come out. And it scares you, because you don’t want to die in this place, not in this prison. And again you begin to count the years, the months, the days, the hours, and the seconds. Then you understand that you cannot do this time second-by-second. You realize that you cannot fragment time into impossible measures. And you finally comprehend that you must do your time day-by-day or it will seem like forever. Forever.