All the Time in the World is Just Not Enough

My Grandfather Clock

It is the Saturday morning before the week of Thanksgiving. A pre-winter chill is in the air. We have taken the cushions in from the patio chairs, covered the outdoor tables, and stowed the big umbrellas.

The chore completed, we break out the first of a trio of 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles we have bought to work on. Puzzles were something we enjoyed during COVID isolation and putting them together will give us something to do together in the long, dark months ahead. So we will get started today, before Barb’s 11:45 hair salon appointment.

We make nice progress this first morning. We work together on the border, complete except for one edge piece we have not yet located. We then each work in our own styles, Barb putting together a large center area, while I work from the outside in.

At about 11:15, I take a break for lunch. At 11:35, Barb is still hard at work on the puzzle, and I remind her about her salon appointment. “Oh my God,” she says. “Time got away from me!”

“Time got away from me?” That is something I don’t think I have ever said. I don’t think I ever could. I am locked into time.

Time is kept (at least in experimental mice) in the medial entorhinal cortex. It has been about 45 years since I studied neuroanatomy, so I am not exactly sure where that is, but I am positive my medial entorhinal cortex is very well-developed. In fact, it might take up half of my brain.

I cannot get away from time. Without looking at my watch, I can tell you what time it is, pretty close to the exact minute. On any given day, I can sense how long each part of my daily commute is taking me–whether it has taken me ten minutes to get from home to Dempster Avenue milestone or a slacker’s twelve.

Unfortunately, that innate sense of time is not always a good thing. It can be a curse as well. The neurons from my medial entorhinal cortex, besides being my internal clock, also must fire off at my amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fear and anxiety.

It seems that I have allegrophobia, the fear of being late. I know exactly when each meeting, appointment, or interview is scheduled to begin. I time my activities so I will be there on time. On time, no matter what.

If I have had four flat tires on my drive, I still will get to the meeting on time. Of course, the corollary to that is that if I don’t have four flat tires, I will get there two hours early. I have never missed a flight because I was late, but I have wasted lots of time in departure lounges due to arriving at the airport well before any other person would consider rational.

What happens to me if by some strange adversity I am running behind schedule? My stomach clenches and my heart palpitates. Sweat streams down my forehead and my wrist aches from the countless times I have turned it so that I can stare at, and swear at, my watch. Being late just isn’t worth the physical agony.

My daughter shares this malady with me, so perhaps it is genetic. Maybe we just have extra lanes on the Medial Entorhinal Cortex to Amygdala Speedway, with neurotransmitters racing atop them like the Ferrari Hypercar returning to LeMans. There is no slowing down, no getting off.

I would tell your more about it, but I have to be at the neighbors across the street in an hour. It’s best if I start getting ready now…

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