Human beings make a strange fauna and flora. From a distance they appear negligible; close up they are apt to appear ugly and malicious. More than anything they need to be surrounded with sufficient space--space even more than time. --Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
Ours is a hurried life. We seem never to have any time. This is what we tell ourselves: if only there were more hours in the day, if only I had more time to spend with my family, with my friends, out on the roads. We are quick to blame the anxieties of modern life, the stress we feel, on time. And perhaps it is true, perhaps life is moving too quickly.
If we had two extra hours in the day, what would we do with them? My guess is that we would fill them up as well with projects, use them to get started on things we will never finish, torment ourselves for two more hours a day about what we would finish if only we had 28 hours in a day. Our problem, it seems to me, is not a problem of time. Like Henry Miller says, it's a problem of space.
Einstein taught us that space (and time, for that matter) is opened and closed by the the objects that occupy it. Cars and planes started us down a path of acceleration, but now cell phones, the internet, facebook, and email have taken us to a limit point of travel. Making contact at the speed of light, we no longer cross space.
This elimination of space is precisely what has led to the acceleration of time. All of our friendships, our business contacts, our family responsibilities, our favorite websites, musicians, and television shows are with us at all moments. They pour into our minds all at once, immediately. There is no space. In reaction to this, we bustle about endlessly in search of a refuge from the torrent. We hurry here, hurry there, hoping for a resting point somewhere in sight, some sense of completion. We used to have one TV in the living room, and it was easy enough to escape its hollering and pleading screen. You would just go into the other room. Or turn it off.
Now we carry our screens with us, in our pockets. They are in the corner of every bar and restaurant. The wild world plummeting into every space, closing it up with the latest news from Washington, the latest sports score from Boston. Always, just before we relax and take a look around, there is a new interruption, a new thrill to be had, a new responsibility to be assumed.
Perhaps, then, what we need is not more time, but sufficient space. Seen from too far away, we teem like ants swarming on a spinning globe--moving, but without meaning. From too close, we are a bunch of hucksters and children, relentless in our needs, always peddling our wares, burning each other up with proximity. The fauna and flora of humanity are best appreciated from a proper distance.
The difficulty of life is in finding this sufficiency of space. I've reflected on the nomadic aspect of running before. A run can transform the crowded and angry city into a meandering path. It populates the morning commute with trees and birds, colors the hills with slight but real effort. It locates us in a world, but in its measured movement, it also gives us space. This space slows us down and returns us to a place where we are not measuring life in minutes, tasks, and a multitude of unfinished projects. This space is what we denote when we use the word "experience." We find ourselves here, for once, moving through a qualitative world, attentive and alive.
The hour spent running is a penumbral hour of the day, and the time of running is almost always a sort of stolen, hidden time. We run when others are sleeping, commuting, eating or watching TV. We are always squeezing the run into periods of time that are hidden from howling rush of ordinary life. I have done 15 mile runs that have taken no time at all. This is the thing that boggles the minds of non-runners. They ask: "How can you just run for an hour or two?" "How do you find the time to do it?" The answer is simple: if it did take time, running would be boring. If it took time, it would indeed keep us from our more important tasks. But runners know a secret: running takes no time at all. What it takes is space.
What if the problem of contemporary life were not one of making more time, but of finding sufficient space? That would mean that the solution to the hustle of life is not going faster or doing more. Instead it would be heading out somewhere, traversing terrain, and perhaps finding one's self in a world that is much more finished than one commonly imagines.