Stuck in Time

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April 1, 2014 by lucieromarin

One of the clearest signs (to me) that man was meant for eternity is that we handle time so badly. I’m not talking about unpunctuality and double-booking appointments. I mean that time itself is, of its nature, passing, and we, of our nature, want it to be anything other than what it is. We want it to move quickly when we’re suffering, and not to move at all when we’re not. At least, that’s how I relate to it – I don’t know about you. I can attest to getting angry about things that haven’t happened, wishing I’d made more of the hair-colour I had in my twenties, spending a morning looking ahead to lunch, then getting to lunch and moping over injuries ten years old. Maybe everyone else has achieved Christian and/or Zen detachment from the passing of time…but if it is just me, I’m not sure how I’d explain the cosmetics industry, airbrushing, and people stealing other people’s internal organs for the sake of a few more years.

That time passes means that everything that exists in time must also pass. Time, the measure of the movement of material beings, means that every material thing, one way or another, must be lost. And we hate that. Here we are, living in a measure of movement that is, of its essence, about loss, and loss is one of our least favourite things.

I realise this is partly to do with the Fall (since, without it, there’d be none of the old-age illnesses we dread, no hurts or insults to rankle, and no youth-and-beauty issues at all.) Even so – surely A Great Big Dollop of Unending Happy seems so logical those of us taking forty years to learn to deal with loss precisely because A Great Big Dollop of Unending Happy is what we’re made for. Earthly life was meant to be a sort of worthy and enjoyable way of easing into the Great Happy; the Fall turned it into a prickly, against-the-grain sequence of highs and lows that are all we have left to remind us of the original plan.

Learning to deal with the passing of time is also going to be a lot more difficult for cholerics and melancholics than it will be for sanguines and plegmatics. Cholerics and melancholics cling. They each, for their own reasons, need to hold on to this thing forever or everything will be a DISASTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The only consolation I can offer you is the assurance that this has more to do with your temperament than with anything else, so, um…yeah, sorry. You just have to fight it, or you’ll be miserable forever. Trust the sanguines – you can let stuff bounce off you and get distracted by shiny things, and the universe won’t be rent asunder.

One consoling thought for roadkill in all this is that, as roadkill, you actually have the advantage over other people in learning to understand your place in time, awkward as it is. The sense of lost years, lost youth, lost (or missed) vocation, lost health, lost opportunity, and so on – well, you could see it as tragic if you wanted to, but you can also see it as God hammering you with the same message that everyone, at some point, has to learn, which is that everything must be given up one day, one way or another.

Even the people we can be inclined to envy will have learn the same lesson – only, for them, instead of mourning lost time, they’re going be forced to mourn deceased spouses – or worse (as it were) deceased children. Beautiful voices go flat with age, looks fade, houses get termites or knocked down to build freeways…everything good can be loved while it is present, but it will be mourned when it’s lost, and it will continue to hurt until we learn to see everything in the light of eternity. I don’t mean that to sound pious, but to sound brutally realistic, and that means that the brutal realism of post-apostolate burnout can actually make sure that, as you rebuild your life, you do so with that healthily brutalised sanctified atttitude that will, in fact, make the whole venture more successful, and, more to the point, peaceful. Hurray!

***

I struggled for a long time to find a workable metaphor for aeveternity, or discrete time – which is angelic time, and not the same as ours. We receive our existence in little dribbly portions, one second at a time. God possesses all His existence all at once. The angels are in-between; like us, they perform actions in sequence, one after another, but, for them, there’s no time in between those actions. We have Point A, Point B, and Getting From Point A to Point B. For the angels, there’s Point A and Point B, but no Getting-From.

How can we imagine this? (I know we don’t have to be able to imagine things, but sometimes it helps.) To me, it’s like action as you see it drawn in a comic book, frame by frame. There’s the sequence of actions across the frames, but there’s nothing between the frames; each image exists in its own sealed space (and our imaginations supply the rest.)

I suppose, too, that as you look down at the page of a graphic novel, and see twelve or so frames, and you see, all at once, a) that those frames in sequence tell a complete story while, b) at the same time, each preserves forever its own, particular, distinct identity, and c) you can see the whole story and the individuality all at once…then, perhaps, you have some idea of how it feels to be God, outside of time altogether, able to intervene at any point, able to flick between the pages, able to reassure the characters on Page 15 that by Page 27 everything will be okay.

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