“Time is indefinable; might as well call it a bowl of mashed potatoes.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Give it a shot, then.”
“OK.” I grasped for some reasonable definition to spin out, but no definitions took shape. “I suppose you’re right, Kados.”
“He looked up and smiled. “How about this? Time is you dancing with the universe. Why the sudden interest in time anyway?”
“Age, I suspect.”
“Of course. I’m old. You know that. We tend to reach back and fondle each delicate memory as if it were Pierre, the cat, purring in our laps .”
“I suppose it is damn near door-shuttin’ time, as our friend Ed Cain would say…or did say?”
I smiled. Kados and I stood and walked outside into the garden, through the gate toward the river where gold and lavender light sparkled between the leaves of trees. A triumvirate of yellow butterflies suddenly appeared, fluttering from the shadows of weeping trees with such erratic dancing it seemed as if they were leaving us some message written on the wind. We veered off the trail and sat on the river’s bank.
“When we were an infant, Galen, time was a bit of food, a touch, a tickle in the next moment. As a young child, it was a weekend out of school, a few days before our birthday, a week before Christmas. Remember? As a young adult, we looked toward a future of self-becoming; everything lay ahead of us, waiting to be plucked—success, to the degree with which we can or must accept. We were fortunate.”
“Sure. We found ourselves in middle age, floating in a placid state of accomplishment, somewhat skewed of course from self-projection. Now, it seems old age has caught us here, our backs turned from youth’s precious journey; we spend our days pawing through the past, flipping through its tattered box of memories, trying to untangle the mystery we call time. Impossible. What are we looking for? Is it that one memory we’ve yet to turn over? Is it the one that might hold the key?”
“The key to what, Kados? Salvation?”
“I’ve no idea, but I can’t imagine such. Anyway, I do have my own definition of time, though I stumble at expressing it; I feel it…though I can hardly fathom it.”
“Say it. What do you believe?”
“Ok…Don’t laugh. Time is water.”
“You mean like a river? Sorry, Heraclitus, but analogies aren’t definitions.”
“…and water is memory…”
“This is getting a bit soupy, Kados.”
“…and memory is sacred.”
“Kados, how in the hell have we migrated from what is time to what is sacred?”
“Stay close; follow me, Galen. Let’s start with Einstein. ‘Time is an illusion,’ he said. ”
“Go on, I’m listening.”
“Ok. Let’s go back much further; back in time if you will. The first spark of life, perhaps as far back as 3.5 billion years ago, ignited in water or in a medium of which water was the primary constituent. You agree?”
“Yeah, so I’ve been taught.”
“When life finally crawled onto dry land from the oceans three billion years later, we brought the water with us…rather…within us. We’re mostly water, you know; 70 percent or so depending on our age. Ironically—or maybe not—Mother Earth carries the same percentage.
“Four hundred million years later, give or take a few millennia, our father’s spunkiest sperm attached itself to our mother’s ovum; you and I took shape, spending the next nine months floating in the dark sea of our mother’s womb until we spilled out into the light, a fragile, wet creature. From that moment, every unfolding event—hunger, hurt, pain, fear, joy, love—was/is recorded and held sacred within this medium of water residing inside as memory, randomly stored in various parts of our brain which, to again remind you, is primarily water.”
“OK. But what is the correlation of time to illusion?”
“We generally think of time as past, present, and future—what happened last year? What am I doing? Where will we be in ten years? Or: I called you this morning. Talk to me. Tell me you love me. Will you leave me?”
“It’s late, Kados; I’m getting hungry.”
“If, in fact, science is on target, our universe banged into being rather quickly. When we’d been here for only a hundredth of a billionth of a trillionth of a second, we were already ninety times bigger than when we began—can we assume from nothing?”
“Probably, but what’s that got to do with you and me?”
“Everything. How can we possibly grasp what we call the present when the arrow of time carries every thought born to us into the past so swiftly? Can the human mind process something as fast as 10 to the 34th of a second? Perhaps…but unlikely.”
“Still, Kados, you know the old saying: ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.’ And remember, Lord Buddha extolls us not to dwell in the past, or needlessly drift into the future. Concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
“True enough, but I believe what Buddha is saying is that we should turn loose these fears we hold inside us that give birth to hatred and anger; get rid of our needless desires, these that nurture greed and fear of loss, begetting still more anger, more hatred, feeding the cycle of Samsara.
“Ok, so what you’re telling me is there’s no present moment. The past has come and gone, and the future is yet to be.”
“Yes and no, Galen.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Everything we are—knowledge, self-awareness, understanding ‘otherness,’ our pain and loss, our sense of purpose, of belonging, the clutch of awe and mystery—is encoded in our mind’s library as memory. Even our most ancient genetic determinates are held in the fluids of our body. We cannot separate past from present; they are necessarily one and the same.”
“And the future?”
“Ah, yes…things that might happen: It could rain or the door you open goes nowhere. Things do happen: before you know it, the pain of loss when nothing is yet lost. It never happens until it does and then…Bam! Ensnared by memory—the smell of wind, the heaving beaches and blue waves, distant voices curving across the yellow dunes. You remember your child-self soaring above the sand and how you measured the shadow your body made from the sun. You remember the pale sky’s invisible moon. Then one day something unimagined will happen. It’ll happen in the turbulent present of God’s imperfect eye blinking into memory; you dream a life you’ll live again, just as you once hoped you might.”
“Uh-huh. So…there’s no future, Kados? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Again, our sense of the future is mostly a reflection of memory, based on the vast accumulation of event data within us and projected outward. Yes, of course, things will happen. They do. The sun will go down, the sun will come up. People will love, and people will kill. We plan for the future based on predictions. But in truth, everything could end at any time as quickly as it began.”
“I don’t want to go there, Kados. Too many ‘coulds’ to chew on. But go back. What about the water.”
“Yes, the water. Why is it sacred?”
“How can it not be? All life—elephants and tigers, butterflies and birds, fish, frogs, and fungi, hamsters, oysters, and humans; the whole breathing smorgasbord of what lives—is but an exquisite expression of water. I also believe that in the beginning, what we held as sacred was that which is physically essential. Call it what you wish, my friend, but we need to be mindful of both water’s limitedness and its endless love for us.”
“Wow, Kados, I know water is finite but come on…do you really believe it loves us?”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying? That water is God? Isn’t God infinite?”
“If God is infinite, so too is the universe.”
“Yes. Of course. That makes sense.”
The Raft, photograph, from the Dream Sea Series, Galen Garwood 2016
“If the universe is infinite, isn’t everything possible?”
“Hard to argue that bit of stitching.”
“Whether God made water or water made God, what I find both remarkably sad and stupid is that we have such little regard for something without which we cannot survive. Water and time are here, now, within us, the sacred embodiment of life and of knowledge, and yet, ironically, we worship the irrefutably unfathomable.”
“But…I thought you embraced mystery.”
“I do. I do. But, the map for happiness is not obscure,”
Kados smiles and walks toward the river, lifting both his arms into the air as if at any moment my dearest friend, my second self, might take flight. Instead, he wades into the rippling currents and floats, conversing with the water in a language only they know.
The sun has nearly set. I turn toward home. Half-way down the trail I stop and watch a small herd of water buffalo standing knee-deep in the shallows, in blissful quiescence. Several others graze on thick grasses at the edges of rice paddies. The animals are quiet, breathing in the encroaching darkness. A few white egrets, feasting on ticks, fleas, and incautious flies, perch on the animal’s backs; they glow like small alabaster statues against a pewter sky.
Buddha’s right. Keep to the middle. It’s best after all if I don’t hover unnecessarily over the path on which Kados and I have been meandering—what was or might have been or what might or might not be further down, beyond the trees. Kados is right. What is time? Everything dancing.
The Dream, galenograph, 2016 Galen Garwood
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