I’m filled with quirky thoughts today, for a variety of reasons. For one, our Gentle Readers have been writing to ask questions I’d bet few other Web blatherers receive. For another, I’m in the middle of yet another romance novel – to be titled The Discovery Phase, look for it soon at a website nowhere near you – whose protagonists are both rather odd (my specialty) and out of the usual age band for a popular romance. (Hey, it’s Onteora County. Weird stuff happens there!) For a third, the esteemed John Wilder has posted a rather pensive piece about time.
Have a nibble:
Of things that have long fascinated me, time is at the top of the list. Even when I was a little kid, time fascinated me.
The idea that time, of all of the physical parameters of the world there was the one that we couldn’t control. Humanity has mastered the power of the atom, at least partially. We haven’t tamed fusion, but we can create it, and have several fewer islands in the Pacific because of it.
It’s worth reading in its entirety. (Skip the puns. They’re worse than usual.) But it’s germinated more quirky thoughts, for time is probably the least well understood of all “phenomena.”
Consider distance. How do you measure it? Why, directly, of course! You take a standard unit, you lay it down serially from your start point to your end point, and the number of times you must do so before you reach the end is your measurement.
Now consider weight. You measure that in a direct fashion, too: by putting the thing to be weighed on a balance-scale, and piling standard weight units on the other side until a balance is achieved. The number of those standard weight units is your measurement.
Time is different. We don’t measure time intervals directly. It appears to be impossible to do so. Instead, we look at some material process – the movement of the Sun, the burning of a candle of known length, the number of waves emitted by a hydrogen maser – and use that as the measure of the interval that has passed. This differs greatly from the techniques we use to measure other physical items.
If physical phenomena did not change, we would not have any concept of time. (Of course, there would be no “us” to worry about it, but that’s another and much more complex subject.) Yet we use expressions that connote ownership if time, as if it were something, pace Jim Croce, we could bottle and store. “Do you have time to do X?” “Let’s make time for Y.” “My time is my own.”
And with that, it’s “time” for a little C. S. Lewis:
It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tete-а-tete with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own”. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.
You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels.
The insight contained in that passage eludes many brilliant men. Time is not an asset we can somehow store up. Neither can we confidently apportion it: so much to this, so much to that, and none at all to this other “waste of time.” Our schedules, by which we strive to perform such apportionments, are wish lists the events of our lives routinely override. Consider the weekday morning traffic jam.
The moment in which we exist – the one we call now — is all we “have.” Indeed, we don’t even “have” that in any possessive or retentive sense. By the time we’ve named it, it’s slipped away to be replaced by another “now”…if we’re still alive to discuss it.
But time matters. It’s our name for our perception of change, whether the change is for the better, for the worse, or irrelevant to our personal concerns. So we measure it, strain to control the way we use it, and speak of it in terms that physically speaking, are quite misleading.
I shan’t bludgeon this into the magma layer. Allow me one more observation: Whether we use it constructively, fritter it away on fatuities, or sit stiller than a yoga master N levels deep in meditation, time will pass. We will age. Our possessions will erode. Our energies will diminish. And we’ll forget where we left our glasses.
“My time” will pass. When it has, nothing will be left but the sole rigidly scheduled event in every man’s life: to face God at the Particular Judgment.
That’s it. That’s all. Just a few esoteric thoughts for your Sunday morning. Anyway, it’s time for Mass. Be well.