Every story has its own time. I may not visit a particular story for many years, but when I do go back I usually find myself right back at the beginning, as if time has not passed there at all. Or if I left the story before it was over, I can usually find my way back to the place (or rather time) I left, and find myself right in the midst of the same events that were happening before.
And another curious thing is that a lot of time can go by in a story – hours, days, even years – but when I leave the story and return to my own world, I usually find that only a short time has passed. And this can happen even if I don’t visit the story itself in person. Even the spell of a good storyteller’s voice can work this strange magic.
The opposite can be true as well, although it has happened to only a few travelers I know: that one might spend only what seem a few brief moments or hours in a story and then return to one’s own world to discover that years have gone by.
Time can be strange and unpredictable within a story, too. It can slow down to a crawl, or stand still, or hours, days or years can be leapt over suddenly. One can find oneself going backwards in time, too, or catch glimpses of moments long past. One might discover that there are many different kinds of time, and they are all ways of seeing, of being in the world.
Visiting the realm of Story can teach us a lot about time. Most of us live in a world where time is thought of as a commodity, a resource, a possession. We think of time as something we have a certain amount of, and that if we’re not careful our time can be taken away from us by others. We act as if time is something we can save, like money in a bank, and that we should never waste it. Michael Ende’s wise and lovely novel Momo describes what happens to the world when we think of time this way. We discover that we haven’t saved anything, that in fact we’ve lost something precious.
In our busy, measured, time-obsessed world, we imagine time goes in only one direction, toward the future, at a steady, ticking pace. And many of us believe that if we “spend” our time carefully now, and stick to a strict regimen of clocktime, we will earn a future in which we no longer have to keep track of the seconds and minutes and can just relax and enjoy our “free” time. But by then we might find that we’ve become so fixed in our idea of saving time that we can no longer just live it. We will have forgotten that time was always free, and never belonged to anyone.
As the narrator of Momo says, “Time is life itself, and life resides in the human heart.”