Your Sunday Brunch Special. Time.

Sitting in an upstairs room.
It is still winter as I write this, and dawn takes her time. Everyone else is asleep, wandering in dreams where I’m the blind observer.

I’ve been thinking about my parents lately. Both have been gone more than a decade. My memories of them are fragmented and naturally limited by the way most of us store such things. I’ve been wondering about their thoughts, something I’ll never be able to access, but nevertheless still wondering. How did they experience their own memories? Looking into their lives lately, I’ve realized that most of their experience was hidden from me. It differed greatly from the seeming uniformity that I watched as a teen and young adult. Oh sure, I had a glimpse now and then. But it quickly submerged below the surface of present attitudes and behavior.

I look at my children and realize the same thing has happened there—all are distant now—gone from home—constructing universes in which I have become a distant star. They live lives that are mostly hidden from me and of course their mental lives, their dreams, their day to day experience—-I will never know much of that now.

Moonrise over the Sea by Caspar David Friedrich. Image: Wikipedia


I think a lot about time. I mean mathematical physics was my game for decades.* That can steal some romance from you. In fact, it can be downright deadly. I remember meeting this very smart and stunningly pretty woman while I was a missionary. She and her husband both worked for a think tank. He was rather unhandsome but brilliant. She did something with compilers I think, he was a physicist working on something to do with the limits of computability. She was a Mormon, he was not, and for any number of reasons he saw religion as futile, a waste of— time. I was in their home only a couple of times but you couldn’t miss the tension. He didn’t like us being around and actually spoke to us in hexadecimal code. Really. It was weird. Now I wonder where time has taken them and how their worldlines joined. It seemed so improbable at the time—the joining I mean. “Time” reminded me of them because of something he said about it. Time, I mean. How small a slice you could get for computability purposes. I don’t remember what he said now, exactly. And it’s probably wrong anyway. But it made me think about how much time we have. We’re just too slow to use it efficiently.

Goodbye. Image: Wikipedia.


The forever friends of young adulthood are not on my radar. It’s the expanding universe problem again. People just gradually slip beyond observational boundaries—commonalities vanish. And it just keeps happening. Sometimes there’s a tear in space-time. When my mother died, my father had questions. Why did this happen to her? Her dementia had robbed them for years, but her physical presence served as an Ebenezer. When that was gone, he seemed muted. A part of his life that was largely hidden from me was altered, out of phase, gathering dust, a room where someone had closed the door and never again touched the things that once were meaningful, beloved, used daily.

Hubble Deep Field. Image: Wikipedia


The expanding universe is separating me from other things. Many of my professional colleagues and friends are younger than me. I still work with them, interact with them, but time reads us differently. I’m in a different era. No kids at home, different kinds of concerns, my horizons are different and it can be hard to relate. I can relate to them, I mean I’ve been there, but I’m not a contemporary, so I have to be watchful, to avoid being the crashing bore. So more than ever, I drift into quiet observer mode. It’s comfortable there—frozen introvert that I am—but it’s also an isolation, and that stratification feels a bit like the living and the dead of Our Town.

———–
*(I do biology and history now-a-days. Some evil biologist–now thankfully dead–once claimed that all history was biology–NO.)

Comments

  1. Hope Wiltfong says:

    Thank you for sharing. Some good thoughts, and I find myself in a similar situation. Time, once so slow, is rapidly expanding & hastening – and we lose so much in it. You’ve given me some thoughts that I can write on – thanks again!

  2. poignant and profound. thanks

  3. I really enjoyed this post. Being in a similar position in my lifeline, your thoughts are not exactly mine, but are similar and feel familiar.

  4. Mary Lou says:

    “I have to be watchful, to avoid being the crashing bore.”

    So easy for me to recognize in others but so hard to see in myself! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Jason K. says:

    I’m younger, but I can still relate. Love you, WVS.

  6. Thanks for this piece of writing. It hit the spot for me this afternoon, especially as my three kids are so young and close and wild and this time seems like it may be forever. In both good and scary ways.

  7. Very nice. Resonates.
    (I’m curiously following comments to see whether this makes sense to a younger generation.)

  8. This post reached me in a poignant way. Thank you for taking the time to craft it. The challenge of fading connections has become so fundamental to my daily experience of aging. I hope that the process creates some value in spite of the misgivings I often experience. I also really appreciated the space-time context of this post. Cosmic scale resonates with me for sure.

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Yeah.

  10. Kristine says:

    “I still work with them, interact with them”
    I’m really glad!

  11. your food allergy is fake says:

    How does one avoid sinking into depression thinking about this? No I’m serious. This time sh_t hurts.

  12. Apropos of nothing, that’s a beautiful picture of what must be one of the last cruises of the Iron Nickel, LHA-5, the USS Peleliu. Speaking of time passing, she was the last to be decommissioned of the 5 Tarawa-class LHAs, the mainstays of the projection of US Marine Corps amphibious power worldwide during the last two decades of the Cold War. Known not so affectionately as “gator freighters,” they could carry a reinforced battalion of Marines (1,700 men) and air support.

    Huh. Crashing bore, indeed. :) Seriously, though, I often find myself wondering how the years got away. I work with many people who recall 9/11 from elementary school or junior high; my earliest “big event” memory is the Apollo 11 landing. Like Mary Lou, easy to recognize in others, hard to see in myself. Possibly because I simply don’t remember that I’m not 21 anymore. I have to be careful not to lecture, to offer perspective only when asked, not to always think I have to fit in – because I don’t really fit in. I’m OK with that; it just takes some getting used to.

  13. John Mansfield says:

    Thoughts of the expanding universe entered my mind when I was at UCLA working on a joint project with people at Caltech. Our meetings together ended by 3 o’clock as a courtesy to those who wanted to drive back to their side of town before freeway congestion really got going. It seemed that those two schools a couple dozen miles apart must have felt closer to one another decades earlier. I’ve sometimes wondered regarding our eternal parents, though in the heavens they be not single, are they only children, or effectively so after vast ages of exaltation? Will there ever be any sociality with Heavenly Aunts and Uncles, or is there an unbridgeable separation?

  14. I measure almost everything in terms of time now. Money is a factor but “how long does it take” is my first thought now instead of “how much does it cost.” We envy the young not because they are financially poor, wisdom poor, or not yet saggy – but because they are time rich.

    Crashing bore? Yes, I struggle with that. As I age I care less what people think which makes this an increasing risk.

  15. Thanks to everyone who commented. Sinking into depression! You come to grips like any grief I suppose.