Does time heal us?

“The more one learns, the more one comes to hate the waste of time.”

Purgatorio III:78


“Distraction skills are important because (1) they can temporarily stop you from thinking about your pain and, as a result, (2) they give you time to find an appropriate coping response.”

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook


“Time heals all things.”

I’m sure most of you have heard this expression before, or at least a something similar. It’s generally told to those who are experiencing hardship. A seemingly hopeful sentiment so that the individual doing the telling can walk away from the conversation feeling satisfied with the advice they gave. Hardly advice, really, it’s just an ambiguous statement, but the implied advice being to not give up because things will eventually get better.

I’ve never been a big fan of this expression. I’ve heard it all throughout my life, particularly from my elders. And maybe they’re right… I’m only twenty, so I haven’t had the time they have had to test out this claim. But despite my youth and inexperience I’m still going to write about the flaws I see in the phrase (a typical thing to do among the young and inexperienced).

I do not understand time to be a healer, though it is claimed to be such here. Time does indeed play a necessary role in healing, and healing could not happen without time. But time does not have the ability to interact with the thing that needs to heal. Time works externally, and it does not care about people’s desire for it to stop or speed up or slow down. Time does not ask the harmed what they need; time is not a pill you have to take for ten days in order for your strep throat to go away; time isn’t the doctor that adjusts your broken bone, and it’s not the cast that you wear to keep the bone in place. But what time does do is give the opportunity to heal. You have to take this medication for ten days, and then you will be healed. If you don’t take the medication but ten days go by since you’ve gone to the doctor, your strep throat will most likely only get worse. Time does not offer assistance, but it does offer opportunity.

Time is a central theme in Purgatorio that Dante utilizes in a myriad of complex ways, one of with is to define the severity of one’s sins during life, and as a result, the severity of one’s punishment after death. The sentence a soul is given when they are placed in purgatory allows the soul time to reflect upon their sins and work towards salvation… but does time alone dictate the progress a soul has made in terms of “healing”? Why do prayers from the living shorten one’s time in purgatory if they do not show any sign of individual progress? Is purgatory really a place to heal? Or is it simply a waiting game? What does it mean to be “wasting time” in purgatory, as the first quote indicates?

I have no conclusions or answers to these questions, they’re simply some recurring thoughts I’ve had while reading.

Dialectical behavioral therapy taught me that it is naive to assume that time will heal my pain. To say, “I’ll be okay once the semester ends” or “I’ll be okay next month/next year/when I’m done with school/when I find a steady job/when I retire/etc,” simply set me up for the disappointment I felt when the semester ended and the pain is still there. But DBT has also taught me that if I use the time that I have to practice skills and to actively work towards getting better, I will continue to get better. There is no defined end date to healing… which is making me question if purgatory is more like a rehabilitation center or a prison.

I apologize if this post is incohesive. I have a lot of incomplete thoughts going around about these works and how they are in conversation with healing, so this is me trying to coagulate those incomplete thoughts into something that makes at least a little sense.

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