I read somewhere about how change in the life of a subatomic particle or the sun hardly matters to a human, because one is too fast and the other too slow to affect him or her. Conversely, the changes in the life of a person are insignificant as far as the sun or the subatomic particle is concerned. As such, I guess change only matters if we can practically observe it.
Like the changes that happen in a year of one’s life. Certain events must have occurred that are significant enough to be noticed. If these changes turn out to be generally desirable then we can say it was a good year. If not, perhaps it’s possible to zoom out to include a wider scope and see if it was a relatively good half-decade. Or to look through the seasons and into the days. Surely there must be moments worth remembering, memories we can feed on during times when life doesn’t seem so good. After all, it’s just a matter of how we mark time.
In Part One we took an impersonal approach on time and life so this time we’ll try to add a little emotion. I’ll do my best not to sound too cheesy though, just enough that the guys would suffer through it while making the ladies smile. Okay, here it goes.
A few days ago I heard the song Slipping Through My Fingers by Abba. Now I’m not going to talk about the movie Mamma Mia lest the guys start packing but rather about the lines from the song and how they relate to time and life.
Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile
I watch her go with a surge of that well-known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while
Ah, a mother watches her young daughter leave for school every morning and gets a bittersweet pinch in the chest each time.
The feeling that I’m losing her forever
And without really entering her world
I’m glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl
I guess sooner or later we will lose everything forever, every single thing dear to us. With this we should be grateful for every shared blessing and cherish it as much as we can even if we cannot really enter our loved one’s world.
Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Nostalgic as this may already seem, how sad it would be if these experiences never happened at all, or if one is unable to connect with her own daughter:
Do I really see what’s in her mind
Each time I think I’m close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time
But do we really need to see what’s in a loved one’s mind? To you freethinkers out there, did you love your parents less when you became ‘enlightened’ and you started to think of them as less enlightened than you? Of course you’d love them more if they opened their minds, but just because they didn’t when you did doesn’t mean you loved them less.
Sleep in our eyes, her and me at the breakfast table
Barely awake, I let precious time go by
Then when she’s gone there’s that odd melancholy feeling
And a sense of guilt I can’t deny
Hmmm…breakfast is a wonderful time for bonding but unfortunately both mother and daughter still have their minds dozing in dreamland, and it is only when one has left that the other realizes what was just permanently lost.
What happened to the wonderful adventures
The places I had planned for us to go
Well, some of that we did but most we didn’t
And why I just don’t know
Ah, the could have beens. It is often said that regrets on the things we did can be healed by time, but regrets on the things we did not do will haunt us forever. Mark Twain said something similar to that.
At this point the chorus about trying to capture every minute is repeated. Surely there will be moments really worth capturing – by engraving them in vivid memory or by literally taking a picture – to preserve and immortalize them, as the song’s last lines suggest:
Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture
And save it from the funny tricks of time
Ah, time. It does things to us, to life. Life is at the mercy of time. And while life is personal and always longing for itself, time is neutral and unforgiving. However, life is also a cycle of birth and death, and linear time is needed to keep this cycle going.
With the psychological arrow of time we remember the past but not the future. And with this time has a given us a very generous gift: memories. And although life cannot survive the funny tricks of time, our memories often do.
What is time? Does it exist beyond the beginning and end of our universe? From the point of view of the universe there was no time ‘before’ it expanded from a singularity and there will be no time ‘after’ it collapses back into a singularity (that is, if it collapses back). But what about from a hypothetical point of view ‘outside’ the universe? Is there ‘time beyond time’? Ah, things too heavy to ponder on Halloween. How about we set that aside for now and shift to something more within our purview. Let’s talk about life – and ‘time beyond life’.
About 14 billion years ago, time began along with the Big Bang. That means we never existed for 14 billion years as far as the universe is concerned. We were practically dead. But then we are born and we live. And at the end of our lives we will become exactly what we were for the past 14 billion years: non-existent. Or will we?
While the term universe is often confused with space, it actually means space and time or the totality of space and time from the Big Bang to whatever scenario the universe ends into. The universe isn’t just the entire space at this very moment in time; it is the entire space for all the time it exists (note the present tense exists – the universe is present at every minute of its life). And so even after we die, as far as the universe is concerned we will always exist at a certain point in time and space. Points actually, one point for every infinitesimal fraction of every second of our lives.
But then the point is, as far as we are concerned we cease to exist after we die, unless there is life after death. But if there is none, then those we leave behind – our surviving families, friends, and those whose lives we’ve touched – their memories of us will be the only witnesses to our existence. And after they too will all be gone, only the universe will have a record that we once lived.
And if the universe would one day cease to exist, I wonder if there is something beyond to observe all the events from the universe’s birth to its death, capturing the universe’s life and every life it supported – and how each of those lives struggled for survival, evolved, and lived; each joy and each suffering, each triumph and each defeat – immortalizing everything in a ‘time beyond time’.