Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking Our Time

Let’s face it; I’m a bad blogger. I don’t mean that I write badly, I just don’t blog very well. The act of blogging carries with it a sense of urgency. Bloggers blog frequently, constantly even. I, on the other hand, send the occasional, lazy essay out onto the digital playground to fend for itself, like a kid with un-cool sneakers and the wrong lunchbox. So be it. They’re my kids and I love them anyway.

I should be doing other things right now, work related things, but I’ve chosen to hack a tiny slice out of the evening to do this instead. Do I have the time for this? I must have the time because I had time to play that silly video game on the “i-pod Touch” an hour ago, and I had time to do the laundry, to eat an apple, to check my e-mail. The biggest impediment to creating anything is believing that you have the time. Making time is always possible, but believing it’s there requires faith.

One thing is certain: whether I am creative or not, whether or not I do anything useful with the day, the sun will set and the sun will rise, and time will continue on with its perpetual march into the future. Maybe it’s because I was raised in the computer age, but this simple fact never ceases to astonish me. There is no pause button; there is no playback, no rewind, no “command Z,” with which to manipulate the rate at which we zoom through life. You may not take back anything you have ever said or done, and you cannot reclaim wasted time. Of course we may be forgiven our sins, but the hours spent watching “Friends” or playing “Mafia Wars” on facebook are gone folks. You cannot get them back, not even for money. What is left for us I suppose is to take our time seriously. It is a gift.

There is a character in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel The Slaughterhouse-Five, who is abducted by aliens in the midst of WWII. The aliens, who are from a planet called Tralfamadore, experience time in a non-linear way. When a tralfamadorian looks at a human, “They see them as great millipedes—with babies’ legs at one end and old people’s legs at the other.” 1 I think this is a helpful, if somewhat creepy, metaphor for time and our enslavement to it. We carry all our history with us, like snails whose shells keep getting bigger. The late Roman philosopher Boethius postulated a cosmic view of time that was not unlike that of Vonnegut’s aliens. He pictured God as looking “forth from the lofty watch-tower of His providence…,” 2 as the whole parade of human history passes by. We on the ground see only a little, but He from His vantage point can see it all from beginning to end. The philosopher hashed out this and other ideas, mostly about good and bad fortune, while in prison and awaiting a sentence for treason. Some traditions say that a rope was tightened around his head until “his eyes started,” after which he was clubbed to death.

We’ve arrived at the last paragraph now and the time is 8:14 PM, on Saturday Feb. 20, 2010. It will never be this time again, never. What does the future hold? Mostly it will be mundane. Mostly we will get up, greet our loved ones, go to work, eat lunch, and so on. Mostly it will be as it has been. The truth, of course, is that what it has really mostly been is changing. And it will continue to change. How our lives will change and what they will look like ten years from now is impossible to say. We must be patient while we live it. It’s all just a matter of time.

The Urban Luddite

1 The Slaughterhouse-Five, p. 110

2 The Consolation of Philosophy, Book IV, Ch. VI