Its currently 4:30 am in the Philippines and I’ve had zero sleep because of jet lag. The only good thing that’s come out of that is that I managed to finish this book that I bought ages ago but only just decided to read.
This book had far too many similarities to The Age of Adaline and The Time Traveller’s Wife for me to be comfortable reading it when I wasn’t in the right headspace. As most of you know, I tend to get too involved in the lives of the characters I’m reading such that their emotions become my own. And as much as I love books like these, I know without a doubt that they never have a happy ending.
Tom Hazard looks like a normal forty-year-old attempting to teach history in East London. In reality, he is 439 years old and has lived through both the Great Wars, met and worked with Shakespeare, had drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald and has witnessed all the defining moments of history. He has a condition called anageria, which means he only ages a year every 3 or 4 decades.
Tom is part of a society of people who are just like him and the idea is to protect each other from threat and exposure. There are a few rules: no photographs (difficult in this age of selfies!), move every eight years and of course, don’t fall in love. Apparently, this is the one thing guaranteed to drive you insane (I wholeheartedly concur).
It would be easy for me to dismiss this book out of hand if it turned out to be just another story of love defying all odds and impossibilities. Its not that; rather, the reader is allowed to go on a journey as Tom discovers the difference between existing and living. I think that this, this moment in time, is the perfect time for me to read this book.
You see I think it throws everyone off their game, turning 30 and realising that you’ve become a full-fledged adult with 3 decades of experience behind you. Being 30 comes with expectations, the word marriage is mentioned much more often (along with children, babies, etc). We spend so much our time thinking of, planning for and worrying about the future.
Its the same thing with dwelling on the past; there’s never any point in being stuck on the mistakes and the what if’s but we do it anyway, when in fact the only thing you should be doing about the past is learning from it. I think this is what Tom came to realise in this book. The secret to enjoying life is in enjoying the process; its the journey, not the destination after all.
For all its faults (that ending was a bit abrupt and tidy), the book is incredibly poignant. It reminds us that to live in fear is not to live at all. It tells us that things are going to happen that we won’t be able to control but just like a surfer, you should just be able to ride out the waves.
Everything is going to be all right. Or if not, everything is going to be, so let’s not worry.
As many of you know, I am a little bit obsessed with the concept of destiny and seemingly random moments that turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. So yeah, I found myself relating to this book and nodding along to Tom’s internal monologues. It can seem a bit much, but stick with it and you can see kernels of truth of like this one:
That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days – some years – some decades are empty. There is nothing to them. Its just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. When I look back on the past 5 or 6 years of my life, its not the big moments that I relive when I need a good memory. Its the many small moments that I didn’t think amounted to anything at the time. I wish I was better at taking photos or that I had time to write about even the mundane things, because someday when time has passed me by these are the memories I’d fight to keep.
And lastly, just to get out of the depressing mood of that last paragraph, I think Matt Haig makes a case in point of what I’ve come to believe is a universal truth: the present is vastly underrated. We don’t appreciate the present until it becomes the past. What is so wrong with us that we can’t seem to just live in the moment? Life is far too short to be stressed all the time. Someone please remind me of this the next time I moan about being stressed!
I won’t tell you if Tom discovers the secret to stopping time, I’ll leave you to read that for yourself. But in a book with so many quotable quotes, I’d like to end with the one that really spoke to me:
If only we could find a way to stop time. That’s what we need to work on. You know, for when a moment of happiness floats along…
We so very rarely get true moments of happiness. When you do, hold on to it and enjoy it. That’s my secret for stopping time, anyway.