“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you never get it back.”

Harvey Mackay

Over the last few months, I have had this ongoing conversation in my head about the concept of time and how we approach it. If I’m being honest, I’ve been mulling variants of this conversation in my head for at least two or three years. But it has really come to a front since 2020 and a fleeting conversation I had with my mother in the car back from the supermarket last month. I realised I processed time differently to her. 

How do you file time?

Time the elusive commodity

This month, I will have been “married into” the British Royal Air Force for nine years. It struck me last month that since being married, I have taken to filing my life into 2-year increments. That is how my life moves. We move approximately every 2 years, generally to a new part of the country, new house, new friends, etc. 

This realisation was immediately followed by an emoji accurate thumb and forefinger to the chin reaction as I wondered, How do normal people characterise time? By normal people, I mean those not ruled by where their husbands or wives are told their next job will be. Do people work by 5 or 10-year plans? Do they block it off in decades – school, university/college, my 20s, my 30s, or perhaps pre/post marriage, pre/post children?! I began to wonder if they could easily pinpoint years or whether they just all merge into one.

Two of my military friends file away time in a physical way. One gets a book printed at the end of each year with those years worth of photos in them. Another does it at the end of each different posting. I love this idea and would love to start that tradition… I’ll add it to the long list of other things I keep meaning to do. 

Almost every military family I know has a “Home is where the (enter military service) sends us” plaque. You know the ones you hang on your wall and add the posting every time you move? Maybe that’s a British thing. It’s mostly good for having all your addresses and postcodes in one place for those please put down all addresses you’ve lived at in the last 10 years forms. We all dread those. 

This meandering thought process brought me back to the long conversation I’d been having with myself since becoming a parent – that time was an elusive commodity 

Time throughout life

Time the elusive commodity

Time is an elusive commodity. It is such a paradox of emotions in the world.

As a child, you often take your grandparents for granted. When you get older and they pass away, you begin to find out more about them and end up wishing you had spent time asking them more questions.

As a child, you wish you were older; as a teenager, you wish you were an adult; as a parent, you look to the future to when you’ll get more sleep. Parents have no time yet want more time in the day to get everything they want to be done.

Then all of a sudden everything comes to a stop, and you are standing still. You realise your children don’t want baths anymore and somehow you are getting a full night’s sleep. You pause and realise that you are in that future place you so longed for, and you don’t really know how you got there.

Did you make the most of the time?

Did you soak it all up while it was happening?

Were you present enough or always wanting that next stage? 

Time. This sacred commodity that we so often take for granted. So many of us spend so much of our time wishing it away or spending it looking forward or looking backward. 

2020 happened, and the world turned upside down. Time felt like it had stood still and yet, it got to December and most of us wondered where on earth the year had gone. We blinked and it had disappeared. 

‘Time moves slowly, but passes quickly’

Alice Walker

Stolen Time

I’ve often talked about this since March 2020. As military spouses, you don’t have a choice where you move, not much choice what house you get, and not a vast amount of choice in the friend department. Most of the time, you may make a couple of friends you connect with and make you laugh. Often your kids are the same age, so this helps that connection.  

But every now and again, you land in a place where you find lifelong girlfriends. Girlfriends that give you that sparkle, and you want to make sure you suck it all up like a sponge. You make sure to make the most of it with long meandering evenings of laughter (and Prosecco). You make sure your kids have the best time living out of each other’s houses. You get pictures of all of you at the Christmas Draws and Summer Balls because you know that it probably won’t get better than this. 

But Covid. 

Stolen Time of what could have been. 

Lost laughter.  Lost moments of connection. 

Lost elusive Time. 

And now we’re moving on.

Is there an answer?

I think as humans we are always wanting more. The grass is always greener and full of what-ifs and buts. I know because I often catch myself wishing time away, thinking a week, month, a year ahead. I’m pretty sure we are all guilty of it. It is one of the reasons the last few months I have tried to make an honest try in not doing that.

And it is a daily challenge! I try and practise being mindfully in the present at least once a day, whether that is through deep breathing or stopping to mindfully see something in nature. 

The honest truth is – we have no control over time, that elusive commodity.

It will pass whether we like it or not. Whether we file away our years in 2-year or 10-year increments; whether we feel like we are always looking forward; if we had time snatched away. We cannot stop it.

What we can do is make a conscious decision to make the most of it. Use it wisely, use it to really see and hear those around us, use it to do the things that make us shine, and spend it with those that make us sparkle. If we do that to the best of our ability, perhaps that is humanity’s way of winning time. 

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Grace Selous Bull
Grace is a Royal Air Force wife and has been for nearly 8 years. She is mama to two fiery girls and one paw pad, and is undeniably British!’ Creative by nature, creative in life she and her family are a consciously creative household. With her background in the arts, before marriage she worked in the London art scene, both at an international auction house as well as for an international art consultancy. Leaving this behind her passion for creativity, art education and the arts didn’t fade but spilled over into her family life. This led her to become an author of a children’s art educational book, Potty About Pots: arts and crafts for home and school and start up her own website, The Rainbow Tree: making creativity accessible. She also began to write for companies like Super Simple. After a particularly difficult deployment last year she has become a strong advocate for creative mindfulness after watching her eldest struggle with anxiety throughout. Using creativity as a tool to get through, she saw her daughter more able to deal with day to day life. Grace believes that creativity is an innate gift every human has and that using it every day allows us to maintain a healthy well being. This is is especially important for children who benefit developmentally, socially, emotionally and mentally in being creative day to day.

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