Time (in a Bottle)

Every so often something opens up a time warp and I find myself awkwardly split between the past and the present. So yesterday I was sitting, or rather lying back, in the dentist’s chair getting my teeth cleaned when a song came over the Muzak: Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” I groaned out loud, telling the hygienist that I found the song depressing, but I knew even then that the word “depressing” doesn’t really describe it because it’s so much more than that: it’s genuinely sad; tragic, even, both because of the artist’s early death and for what it says about the human condition. Here are the lyrics:

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
‘Til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

If I could make days last forever
If words could make wishes come true
I’d save every day like a treasure and then,
Again, I would spend them with you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go
Through time with

If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true
The box would be empty
Except for the memory
Of how they were answered by you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go
Through time with

Songwriter: Jim Croce
Time in a Bottle lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

I thought back to the time when I first heard that song. It was featured significantly in a TV movie from 1973 called “She Lives,” a movie about cancer and young love, like “Love Story” and “The Fault in Our Stars” and so many others I’ve forgotten. I remember that one because of the feeling of tenderness and wistfulness it elicited at a time when I was the same age as the young lovers.

I went home and forgot about it until it was time to go to bed, at which point a demonic little impulse prompted me to find the song online and listen to it again. Next I read what Wikipedia had to say, and when the article mentioned “She Lives” I thought, “I’ll bet that movie is on YouTube,” and so I looked it up and ended by watching the whole thing. What surprised me was how well I remembered details of the dialogue after more than 40 years, even though I can’t remember precisely where I was when I saw it.

“Time in a Bottle” tells of the impossible desire to save what is most precious, one’s love for a particular mortal being, from the relentless march of chronological time. There is the consolation of going through whatever time one has with one’s love, but the tug is always there. My time in a bottle is a fragile memory captured from a distant time, of a young person I used to be, who lives in me still. I can watch that movie and see it from an adult’s perspective, or I can suddenly be just as I was when I first saw it as if no time has passed at all. I can even do both at once. The trouble is, I would rather not be caught up in a wistful dream of temps perdu. It’s like an incubus taking away all one’s energy for the task at hand. And now that I think of it, the couple from the film are dreadfully tedious in their absorption in each other, and the film itself is sweetly insipid. Even the song can grate on the ear with endless repetition.

Time for bed.

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