Time as we understand it is a linear, stepwise progression; measurable, dependable, irreversible. But there are physicists who will tell you that this is an illusion imposed by our own minds, which are incapable of conceiving anything beyond a progressive, three-dimensional existence. A select few extremely intelligent individuals are able to shake loose from this mental constraint and see our perception of time for what it really is – a post-factory modification, created to help us understand a universe of multiple realities by way of temporal separation.
From this tool, superstitions arise and intelligent design is suspected. When a particular sequence of events appears too coincidental to have happened by chance, it suggests the existence of some unknowable power arranging these events in such a way as to point us in a particular direction. We accept this idea through a concept we call faith. Wherever there is uncertainty, we ascribe it to an unknowable entity, and use that entity to filter the world around us such that once applied, everything thereafter appears to come from, or at least pass through, a pre-existential consciousness capable of influencing the events that occur in our existential existence.
But what if all things, good and bad, happen at the same “time,” and the only thing under an all-knowing entity’s influence is the sequence in which we perceive them?
Over the last couple of days I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I have arrived at a new state of being. Most of the vestiges of my life “before” are gone. Some are visible, noticeably my immediate environment, my breakfast bar turned into a desk, my guitars and equipment ensconced at friend’s houses so I don’t have to see them every day, a larger, easier-to-drive car. Other assimilated phenotypes include my limited range and stamina of motion, observably smaller body, and even my loosened standards of appearance. But the psychological changes, while less obvious, are far more significant. Somehow, without realizing it, I have found my way to a state of acceptance, or something near to it, of my present disability.
The last thing to go, the summer class, was dropped last week. Summer terms are less than half the length of regular semester terms; missing a single class or lab is like missing two or three during the school year. With my pain level still as mercurial as a toddler, it seemed unwise to expose it to such an inflexible environment. Instead, I took a couple of half-day receptionist shifts at my father’s business. They know about my condition there; there’s no lasting consequence if I have to miss a shift every now and then.
Beyond that, I have nothing to do, or rather, nothing to finish at a predetermined deadline. No homework, no exam to study for or paper to write, no project at work, no lesson plan to craft, no race to train for, or gig for which to practice. I cannot schedule any home-improvement projects, for obvious reasons; all I can manage is a tentative plan to clean out/reorganize a drawer every now and again if I feel so motivated (I did one in my kitchen yesterday). My summer stretches out in front of me like a newly washed blackboard, all traces of the various plans that had been written on it and subsequently erased – many times over – now cleared away.
Depending only on my pain level, I can either sit around my apartment and watch Netflix all day or go to the gym and wander around, trying out different machines, for as short or as long a time as I want. I used to plan grocery or drug store trips like air strikes, each moment strictly accounted for from list-making to self-checkout line. I could not conceive of why some people would browse through a supermarket like it was an antiques shop. Now I’m the one languidly trolling the aisles, selecting items and reading ingredient lists out of curiosity rather than necessity.
I used to be so parsimonious with my time. Now I am suddenly spendthrift, dispensing it freely because I have so little to spend it on. The passage of time has become a sideshow to an otherwise unmoored existence, in which things occur untethered to any discernible pattern. I am at rest – full and complete rest – for the first time [sic] in as long as I can remember. Not for a weekend, or even a couple of weeks, but for an entire summer.
According to the physicists, all of the things that have happened to me, along with all of the things that could have happened to me but that I did not experience, are all occurring in a “now” better described as an “is.” I and my fellow humans, and/or the God-figure referenced earlier, each have access to a certain set of them and simply arrange them in the way that makes the most sense to us. If so, then the life I was living – the life I thought I was supposed to be living, with its rigid boundaries and stingy expenditures – was the illusion, and I am now experiencing reality in a truer sense than I have since I was a child.
When we are children, an hour is interminable, and next week is so far in the future as to be inconceivable. This sense of time gradually shrinks from slow and deep to rapid and narrow as we age. We think of this as maturity; an acceptance of life as it really is. But what if we are not moving closer to reality, but farther from it, driven by a need to measure our lives, to understand them, to be able to dictate them in a logical sequence to ourselves and other people?
A song I wrote a number of years ago contains the following phrase: everyone wants his life to rhyme/retrofits the touchstones in a straight line. At the time I wrote it, it was meant to illuminate the ways in which we fool ourselves into thinking that we have clear and knowable reasons for why we do what we do. But I look on it now and find a new meaning. We do not arrange our lives in order to explain ourselves. We do it as a way of assigning an explanation for life itself.
This is not to say that there isn’t one. But I submit that the pursuit of that particular knowledge keeps us looking backwards instead of forwards. We cannot always know why some things happen and others don’t. Our energy is better spent adapting to the present order of things than trying to explain it. Explanations delude us into thinking we can effect a far greater degree of change than what is usually possible, or even desirable.
This summer, for whatever reason, I am getting a break – an honest-to-goodness summer vacation. I valiantly resisted clearing the space for it, but now that I have been forced to surrender all but the barest minimum of activities, I realize how much I needed it, and how badly I wanted it. This gift, pressed into my unwilling hands, may be my last hope for a piece – or peace – of recovery from what has happened to me. My shoulder injury has marched through my life unchanging since it occurred eight months ago. What if it was my artificial molding of time itself that enabled its immutability? Now that the mold has been broken, perhaps there is an opportunity for a different state to fill the newly vacated space, “space” in every sense of the word: physical, psychological, spiritual, and temporal.
Vacation, root word, “vacate;” to leave something, to create a void. I used to take it upon myself to fill the void. Now I’ve been banned from access, and the universe will be filling it for me. With what, I do not know.
But most important, I’m not worrying about it – another new feature, part of the acceptance, part of this new state. No longer am I living in “if” or “when.” I’ve found my way to “is.”