In Shakespeare's Richard II, the title character speaks a meditation on time. Richard has the time to do it – his crown has been seized by Bolingbroke (who becomes Henry the IV), and he languishes in prison. As he muses on his situation, strains of music waft into his cell. He pauses to listen; the musician stumbles in the rhythm. Richard then says this:
Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is When time is broke and no proportion kept!
My students have heard me say this, though never so elegantly. "Time" as a musical term means rhythm. Mammals are beings of rhythm. Rhythms – heartbeat, breath, and so many more – keep us alive. Perhaps it is because of this that many humans are more sensitive to rhythm, to the breaking of rhythm, than to nuances of pitch.
Time as the passage of moments can also be broken. We think we'll have time that we don't – to be with a loved one, to make peace, to learn to dance, to go to Ireland, to take one more run with the old dog. Storms delay the trip. Illness breaks the rhythm. And death, the great rearranger of our arrangements, begins to show up more frequently. The losses come more quickly. Yesterday, an ordinary day, I started to see them piling up.
So last night I cried in a friend's arms. My friend hadn't done or said anything to deserve a drenching. I simply had started to count time, and became afraid, for a little while, that there would not be enough time to sing as well as I really could, or act, or write, or love as much as I really can, to even begin to use up all the love in my heart. How I felt in that moment is in Richard's speech too:
So it is in the music of men's lives.
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To check time broke in a disordered string,
But for the concord of my state and time
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.
I wasted time, and now doth Time waste me…
Since I don't want that to be the melody of my story, I have a lot to do. Thank God for friends who help me navigate through storms, who help get my sails raised again.
You know who you are.