This week I explored time, or to be exact, strayed outside of time, listened to silence, in solitude, felt the space between heartbeats. It was less of a conversation than a reverie, though to be sure I was visited by many a fellow-traveler in imagination.
Sitting in the candlelight, I could almost hear Bolero off in the distance, building imperceptibly, outside the range of sense, with a rhythmic insistence, tempo increasing, faster, faster, with driving metronomic force, racing clockwork hooves, until it outpaced the million-fold raindrops hammering puddles in the inky street, then slowed, as rain will do, imperceptibly, until it could barely be heard, then not at all, silence.
The beginning of time, for each of us, means understanding our individual story, our time-line, the events that mark our lives, and the life of that greater self, our society. Kings and queens, births and deaths, moon walks and the overleaping of walls.
The cycles of the earth were the first measure of time, and of the eternal return. Spring is upon us, and ladybugs have been cavorting in my garden for weeks, as well as young doves and entire civilizations of inquisitive ants. Each spring the world undergoes a true revolution, seeds sprout in the damp earth, and legions emerge from the almost-nothing curled in invisible chromosomes.
For Newton, time was a background, independent; it was the screen upon which change happened. He devised a theory of dynamics that stood for two hundred years, until time moved to the foreground, merged with the stuff of space, and became so flexible that it could bend back upon itself, like a young acrobat.
It is said that a day in the life of a young child is longer than a day in the life of a person of years; but if the child is unaware of the end of life, and the elderly cherish each day as a gift, how can that be? Perhaps it is a confusion of memory, the accumulation of memory, with the freshness of first perception. One defining quality of our species is our ability to remember across generations. A library holds the heartbeat of the centuries, and in its endless tomes you hear the deep baritone voices of the past.
Such millennial heartbeats are not just metaphor: one day we will be able to hear a millennial clock, the Clock of the Long Now, near Great Basin National Park.
It was first imagined before Y2K, that now invisible but then impossible temporal barrier that we all stepped through, like Alice; it is being built to last 10,000 years, and in the land over its head, appropriately, grow Bristlecone pines, the longest-lived organism. I once stood face to face with a bristlecone, ran my fingers over its gnarl, and felt like an evanescent butterfly in the presence of a being that was already two thousand years old at the time of Julius Caesar.
Like that tree, we are each a time capsule, storing thoughts and experiences, scars, growth bumps, ring upon ring of memory. Have you ever put a note in a bottle, the original store and forward technology, destined to be read in an unknown future? Have you ever written yourself a note, to be read by some future self?
To stand still, in spacetime, means to travel at the speed of time; and those who travel at the speed of light know no time at all. At this limit you will never age, which is the unconscious goal of all racecar adolescents; but you will also be weightless. As with the event horizon of a black hole, physics bends, warps, and ultimately fractures our common sense.
The evening ended as it began, with the guttering of a candle, shadows flickering on the wall of Platonic meditations. The solitude of an evening. Or perhaps visitors were carried away on the winds of the storm, sprites and genii of the night. The meditation lasted less than a second, no time at all, really; but then again, in the time that it took to contemplate, perhaps it is still happening, in the forever-now of the written word.