Paperwork: Do you ever wonder where all the time goes? Yeah, me, too

This is a story about time.

Unca Bob and I were next to each other, nestled into his couch where he was spending much of his day. His oxygen was nearby, but as long as he sat still, he did not use the tubing stretched across his lap.

We were talking about when he was young and lived in Chicago – the neighborhood, the street he lived on.

I grabbed my phone, did a quick search and found it. Bissell Street. We homed in on an apartment building and decided that could be it, where he lived. But much had changed.

He was remembering pieces of the place, the corner store, the school nearby – as it was back in the 1930s.

Looking at the small image on my phone, he said, “Where does the time go?”

That question, at that moment, felt like a door closing one last time. His door, slamming. He had been told he was dying and was now waiting.

And we were waiting with him. Sharing memories of growing up. Stuff from his lifetime. His time.

Unca Bob passed five days later. Today I’m still gripping those memories, and that damn question. Where does time go?

We have an armory full of responses and the incessant, pounding warnings not to waste a precious moment.

It’s interesting how we think we can control time. We slice it with precision, scaled down to the tick and the tock. The clock has turned our lives into patterns that dictate when we sleep and eat and work and play.

We measure life as lifetimes. One estimate is the current life expectancy in the United States is 79.05 years. Unca Bob was 89 and counting.

I guess some would say he was lucky. Or he had a good life. Because he had more time. And we do want all the time we can get. Got to love that extra .05 of a year predicted beyond 79.

Time is a treasure we count and celebrate ... until we are staring at the few coins left unspent. Then we do more than wonder, “Where does all the time go?”

I’m not sure there’s an answer to that question. After all, it’s not a true question. It’s a lament, a moment of reflection and perhaps regret.

It’s clear we never could control time. It doesn’t go away. But we do.

I was happy to see Jan Bosman recently share her thoughts on the time question. She is a retired teacher from Woodstock, a published essayist and poet.

She explained: “While hunkering down, I took two, two-part Zoom poetry classes that were offered by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets of which I am a member. The second class centered on studying and writing grief poems. My offering below chronicles the many deaths recorded in newspapers during the past year.”


“My friends die asking,

‘Where did the time go?’

Their lives were segmented:

Work, eat, love, sleep,

death always the final piece.

I want to answer, ‘Unending time

goes nowhere, dear friends,

but our lives float by

like dust motes

in the morning sun.’”

So true. We float in an ocean of time. And a lifetime is a minuscule nibble of a moment.

I see this on my family tree, with branches spreading in all directions. On each limb are names and dates.

My Unca Bob is there now. Born 1933. Died 2022. It’s clear that life – our time – is what happens between the dates.

We grieve the loss of loved ones and wish we had more time with them. But time does not work that way. So we celebrate the time we had together, highlighted by memories.

I cannot recollect all the memories nor will I moan over wasted time or missed opportunities with Unca Bob. But I can relish and appreciate those dates when our lives crossed.

He was an important part of my life. We have a history I can record, remember and honor in my own way.

And history, the footprint of time, seems to go on forever.

• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. Email or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.