Imperfectionist Books Reflections

A Life in a One Day

‘Imagine a world in which people live just one day. Either the rate of heartbeats and breathing is speeded up so that an entire lifetime is compressed to the space of one turn of the earth on its axis – or the rotation of the earth is slowed to such a low gear that one complete revolution occupies a whole human lifetime…

In this world in which a human life spans but a single day, people heed time like cats straining to hear sounds in the attic. For there is no time to lose…When people gather at cafés, they nervously study the shifting of shadows and do not sit long. Time is too precious. A life is a moment in season…

When old age comes…a person discovers that he knows no one. There hasn’t been time…He talks to people, but he does not know them. His life is scattered in fragments of conversation, forgotten by fragments of people. His life is divided into hasty episodes, witnessed by few. He sits at his bedside table, listens to the sound of his running bath, and wonders whether anything exists outside of his mind.’

Alan Lightman (Einstein’s Dreams)


Imagine a world like this one – a world where you live for just one day.

It could invoke a sense of urgency into your life and make you more courageous. You wouldn’t put off those things you’ve always wanted to do for tomorrow – because tomorrow wouldn’t exist.

Maybe you’d be more driven and purposeful. There’d be no time for laziness. Remember those periods of your life when you were so busy that you have no clue how you managed to get everything done? Life would always be like that.

Perhaps you’d have no tolerance things for that are bad for you or not aligned with you. There would be no time for toxic relationships. No time to live a life you don’t want.

But the flip slide of that urgency – that sense of determination to make the most out of life – is hurry. You’d be in such a hurry that you’d probably notice very little. Much more would be forgotten than remembered. And without the smiles of strangers, that feeling of electricity when you first touched the person you love, without the feeling of sunshine and rain on your face – what would life really mean?

In this little vignette, Alan Lightman delivers some strong lessons on life. Don’t waste time living out of alignment. Don’t live your life in fear. But at the same time, don’t miss out on those moments that make our lives meaningful.

Life IS short. A day feels like nothing across the span of our lives. But our lives, even if we grow to an old ripe age, is a blink of an eye in the span of the universe. 

Life IS urgent. Contemplate death and appreciate the impermanence of life. Make the most of it. But there is a fine line between urgency and hurry. In a state of hurry, you’re only doing. A day of getting everything done on your to-do list may feel meaningful today, but in a week, a year from now, twenty years from now, that to-do list will likely mean nothing.

Don’t move so quickly that you miss those little in-betweens. Because it’s those little things – sprinkled across the big accomplishments – that give our life meaning.



The short passage at the beginning of this article is from Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams – a collection of fictional vignettes on time. Every story shifts the idea of time upside down in powerful ways. The short passage at the beginning of this article is from a story about a world where lives span only day. But there are many others including a world where people have no memories and one where time repeats in a circular pattern.

Looking for more on this topic? Read Hunting for Pictures and Oliver Sacks on Gratitude.

Featured Image Source: Pexels

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