Memory and the Pace of Time

“Life is like a toilet paper roll: the closer you are to the end the faster it goes.”

The 40-something children’s director at my home church used to say this, and I’ve heard a similar sentiment from people my own age.  But the feeling did not quite reach me until a couple weeks ago when I was remembering an excellent (and entertaining) post of Jen’s about Dying to Self.

I had linked it in the post with the poem in my sidebar (“I think this is the prettiest world– so long as you don’t mind a little dying…”) so it was a quick find and just as good as I remembered.  So I was understandably surprised when I realized it was written more than a year ago.

“But I remember it so well,” I thought, puzzled.  And that’s where my current theory was born (yes it had been gestating a while– I don’t expect this many elements to combine instantly).

I like to say, We never really forget anything, it just takes the right trigger to bring it back. And we all know that things more frequently accessed tend to be more easily remembered.  Also those things that have a personal or emotional connection also are remembered with less effort (more potential triggers, you see?).

So the writing down of something combines several of these factors and makes them easier to access.  Words we spend time with can stay fresh indefinitely (reinforcing the value of daily Bible-reading, btw).


As children we learn that things that happened a long time ago are harder to remember.  In fact, we know there are some things so long ago we can’t remember at all.

One theory about this is that without the hook of language to hang our memories on there is nothing to keep them from blowing away.


This explains the limited (by ratio at least) our number of pre-verbal memories, and may explain why we remember more as we get older: we tend to use more words, and therefore have a way to revisit memories, reinforcing them.  I have memories that I am certain are artificial, having heard (and even told) them so many times.

Now it stands to reason that as we get older (and our language skills improve in proportion to our experience) that events and things may become easier to remember.  This means the clarity of our memories ceases to be a useful measurement of their age, and might become disappointing when everything seems so much faster.

I believe any disappointment (if it exists) should be directed into making the wisest use of the present.  Because God is never finished this side of heaven, we don’t need to fear that anything is irredeemable.


Some things still feel further off, reinforcing the dim-is-distant assumption, but some things are so significant they are relived or long on our minds before they slowly move into “past.”

This is what I think of when I hear people say, “I can’t believe we’ve been married 18 years!” or “How did you get to be 24?  I still remember the day you were born!

I resist (okay, really I feel threatened or defensive toward) every hint and inclination that any stage is supposed to be “the best” because I feel so intensely aware it will not last.

Every stage and season takes just as long as it’s supposed to, and everything changes, except my God’s promises.  He remains the same, the source of all love, protection, and provision.  Because of Him I can feel secure that every stage and season is orchestrated by Him, and find peace in that assurance.

No matter how fast life seems to be unrolling.

2 thoughts on “Memory and the Pace of Time

  1. Hmm. That’s an interesting theory. Seems to make sense. I’ve also heard that a child has (say) six years to look back on his life, whereas an adult has more years. . . so it seems that time is passing more quickly for the adult than the child. (Which is why “five minutes” in the child’s mind seems to take five years!)

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