Lately, a lot of us are talking about time. We say it’s hard to keep track of time these days, What day of the week is it? What month? What season?
We say that Covid seems to have messed with time, causing it to move faster at some stretches, slower at others.
I’ve read that some indigenous people knew time from the way in which the sun lit the trees and the birds changed their songs. Time was marked by the seasons, the fruit, the vegetables. They didn’t set future times that would drag them forward, they just let time come to them. An event would happen when things were ready and the guests had arrived.
This is a nice, gentle way of living in time — neither trying to exploit it, nor letting it control you. My husband used to carry a pocket timepiece – a “savonette” such a device was once called – because, he said, he liked to carry time in his pocket, not have it strapped to his wrist. If he were alive now, he’d certainly have things to say about the smart watches that track your blood pressure, heart rate, steps taken, calories consumed, while also telling you when it’s time for you to stand up and stretch, as well as monitoring many other routines and connecting all your platforms, files and photographs. It means having your whole life strapped to your wrist.
Often we speak about time in strange ways: we spend time, use time, save time, waste time, and kill time. As if time were a resource, not the dimension in which we live, an environment like the air, like the water. People have long associated time with water. Time and tide wait for no man, goes the old saying. Heraclitus said, No man ever steps in the same river twice, for the river is always changing.
The Nanaimo Art Gallery has a wonderful new exhibition by Vancouver artist Diyan Achjadi called “Carried Through Water.” Her stop-motion watercolour animation, Hush and her exquisite paper works look at shifting shorelines and the ways in which activities in one place may be having an impact that reaches across oceans:
I keep coming back to Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton in which he says Time present and time past/ Are both perhaps present in time future…
I remember Penelope Lively writing, more than once, The past is real.
Increasingly, I experience moments when all of time seems to be happening at once, when the dimensions are collapsing and various periods and places seem close at hand. That may be far-fetched, but then I get a text from a friend in Cambodia and realize that, although it’s night here, it’s morning there. The different time zones occur all at once.
In Emily St. John Mandel’s spellbinding new novel, The Sea of Tranquility, it is suggested that we may be living in a simulation and that moments from different centuries sometimes bleed into each other.
Those moments could be thought of as corrupted files. So much for coincidence! The novel spans time and space between 1912 and 2401 and the stories of its people and places are captivating. Reading it, one really does have the sense that it is all happening at once.
At the end of this novel, the time traveller recognizes that he has moved too fast, too far, and wishes to travel no further. “I’ve been thinking a great deal about time and motion lately,” he says, “about being a still point in the ceaseless rush.”
I like the idea of practicing stillness. Being that still point. Simply appreciating and experiencing one irreplaceable moment in time.