Monday, October 1, 2012

{From about 6 months ago} The Westernized Concept of Time

I feel the need to affirm, again, that my life is pretty great right now! I don't know why I am compelled to compose these rather serious contemplations of life on this blog at this moment. I guess it's just part of being empathetic. Ahem.

As I sit with a few friends and wait for the passage of time (and the concurrent easing of their trials), I am put in mind of the value of time. It's so absurd that when time seems lugubriously slow-- during the passages we would give anything to skip over-- we are told to press on and if possible, be philosophical enough to find value in that time. That is our special challenge, and in it there is joy to be found. Supposedly. 

No, not supposedly. Really! I've felt this before, felt the triumph of sheer, simple, survival. In one of my favorite moments in the thousands of pages of the Harry Potter series, near the end of the final book, Harry muses with keen dread on this phenomenon, too: 


Finally, the truth... Harry understood [...]. He felt his heart pounding fiercely in his chest. How strange that in his dread of death, it pumped all the harder, valiantly keeping him alive. But it would have to stop, and soon. Its beats were numbered. How many would there be time for, as he rose and walked through the castle for the last time, out into the grounds and into the forest? ... As he did so he felt more alive and more aware of his own living body than ever before. Why had he never appreciated what a miracle he was, brain and nerve and bounding heart?

In a real-time situation of gravity (aka, in the wake of a nasty break-up :), my friend Stephanie once blogged about her similar, sudden appreciation of the sensations in the tips of her thumbs. She'd never realized how sensitive and dutiful they were before, these little ovals that sent her signals, and pumped tiny amounts of blood under their surfaces, every day of her life for the past 20+ years. Miraculous! 

She, like many others, found that only when life has crashed down around you, and you are sent scattering into every part of your being looking for truth, only then do you find immense meaning in simply being alive. And hopefully, eventually, you find happiness and salvation in that discovery.

My best friend's uncle is battling with cancer, and documenting the journey with the wry humor of a seasoned lawyer/father. On his blog there appeared a poem relating to the desire to identify and reach out to the ethereal, the timeless, the meaningful, during trials:

Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing.

Yet the timeless in you is aware of life's timelessness,

And knows that yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream.

And that that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.

Who among you does not feel that his power to love is boundless?

And yet who does not feel that very love, though boundless, encompassed within the centre of his being, and moving not from love thought to love thought, nor from love deeds to other love deeds?

And is not time even as love is, undivided and spaceless?

But if in your thought you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons,

And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.   

Interestingly, the concept of being owned by time, secured in its straits, is limited to the Western world. Did you know that? Until this weekend, I didn't know that. In this month's book club book, The Shadow of the Sun, by Polish adventurer Ryszard Kapuscinski (a challenging, informative travelogue of his 30+ years of interaction with African peoples), he describes the African conceptualization of time thus:


Africans apprehend time differently. For them, it is a much looser concept, more open, elastic, subjective. It is man who influences time, its shape, course, and rhythm (man acting, of course, with the consent of gods and ancestors). Time is even something that man can create outright, for time is made manifest through events, and whether an event takes place or not depends, after all, on man alone. If two armies do not engage in a battle, then that battle will not occur (in other words, time will not have reavealed its presence, will not have come into being).
Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs to life under our influence, but falls into a state of hibernation, even nonexistence, if we do not direct our energy toward it.
The absolute opposite of time as it is understood in the European worldview.
In practical terms, this means that if you go to a village where a meeting is scheduled for the afternoon but find no one at the appointed spot, asking "When will the meeting take place?" makes no sense. You know the answer: "It will take place when people come."
The author points to the value placed on collectivism by Africans as integral to this way of thinking. On their own, Africans would become lost: starve, be attacked, or die in the vast tangle of their massive continent. Thus they rejected the individualism so highly praised by Western society (America in particular), and instead found comfort passing their days and years as a group, a family. I like this idea. I recognize the fact that the spazmodic moments of time that you really wish you didn't have to go through are eased primarily by one great gift: companionship. Together with God, with friends and family, and the comfort of your own pulse in your fingertips, you carry on.

1 comment:

MOM said...

You ARE a writer. Thanks for the last two lines especially. :) HAVE a good day. And if I could come spend some "time" with you, I'd be there in a minute!