On my way back from a spring break trip to New Orleans, I listened to an NPR podcast that was all about screens and the way social media enables us to capture and display memories in a timeless nature. Photos from 5 years ago pop up on our newsfeeds, and friends tend to dig though the most embarrassing statuses and comments from awkward middle school days, extrapolating a moment from the past into the present. It seems so normal, but when you think about it, it’s really quite strange how time passes differently online.
Of course, as I was driving, time was all I could think about. Just like staring at the clock, patiently waiting for a class to be over, I constantly kept tabs on how many hours and how many miles we had left to go. I knew the duration of this very NPR podcast, and knew that when it was over, I would play 5 songs to buy me about 20 minutes of entertainment during my driving shift. Time can be so draining-especially when there’s no real reason to care about its existence-like during a car ride where keeping track of time won’t make the time pass any faster.
While I was in New Orleans, I experienced timelessness in the real world. On Bourbon Street, I leaned over the railing of a balcony and people watched. Not only did I people watch, I watched other people people watch. There was something so beautiful about witnessing a sea of strangers walk right below me and right next to each other. For just a brief moment, all of our lives intersected perfectly before their fleeting footsteps were replaced by the next souls to analyze. I didn’t know who they were and they didn’t know me, but somehow we all ended up in the same place at the same time.
This sounds like a normal people watching experience, but there was something different about New Orleans. I think it was an overt, lingering juxtaposition between the rich history that was very present in its architecture and the progressive aura that combined into a world that felt in the past and future at the same time-a social utopia unbound by time.
The music added to this timeless feel. One band demonstrated what I had always heard about jazz: that it’s magic is in its improvisation. The lead singer took a song request from an audience member and it was a country song the band had never played before. Without formulating a plan, the band started off slowly, trying to transform it into a blues song by feeding off of each other’s intuition. They found their own rhythm-a rhythm that would be completely different if they were to perform the same song again. At one point, the singer rushed back and forth on stage to play two different symbols. The smile on her face and the little giggle in her voice showed the amount of fun that accompanied the improvised arrangement. The best way to describe the experience of listening to the band was feeling completely present during the making of art, music, and storytelling. You couldn’t predict what was going to happen, and there were no expectations of time from the performance.
The spontaneous nature of the music is paralleled in the inherent spontaneity of visiting New Orleans. You can come up with as many plans as you want, but you also have to be willing to follow the sound of the music down a different street to a different venue and see where the night takes you.
My trip to New Orleans made me realize that life doesn’t have to be so linear. As a college student, I am always so concerned with numbers: 4 years. 8 semesters. 5 classes. 10 pages. 90 minute classes. But if you are so focused on the numbers and the time, you seek a certain arch that doesn’t have to exist. That arch has moments of waiting, predicting, and planning. While it’s important to compartmentalize your time to stay productive, it’s also possible to think with a less numerical framework. Instead of thinking about the word count on your paper, just write. Instead of getting so caught up in how much longer you have to sit in class, just be present. Time is going to pass anyway.
The beauty of time is in the fascia between moments when time is temporarily suspended-when you go for a run, hang out with friends, or become so engrossed with a project that you lose track of time. But losing track of time is not a loss. There’s something to be gained by seeking timelessness in seemingly linear arenas-like college or life in general.