The Elusive Mechanics of Time

Three philosophy courses deep and a pocket full of literature threw me into a tailspin of addiction. Ever since the close of my undergraduate studies, I have and continue to enjoy the immersive back-and-forth that philosophical writings have to offer. It really is a conversation with its audience and the prestigious philosophers of old are a slap back in time to the days when much less was known about the world we live in. It continues to expand..

So the perspectives we seek to expand our horizons remain close at hand and ever-attainable.

It’s an art that we have lost, learning for the sake of learning. With no end goal other than furthering our knowledge and understanding, the purest of motives presents and redeems itself. Not for a degree. Not for a job. Not to impress. Not to speak one’s mind on impulse. Just passionate, passive, extracurricular learning. In kindness the same. Kindness for its own sake, not for something in return. Regardless of how others treat you.

The other day I came to notice that I often start my posts by relating content back to a specific place in time. It seems unavoidable and placed me in a predicament of sorts. When writing, I thrive on conviction and the recurrent meddlings of a concept that I have at the time. This specific piece of clay has recently remained warm at hand so it was only natural that I coded my thoughts to the bright square screen in the dimly lit room.

How can we address an occurrence without placing it within the bouts of time? How can we provide a hypothetical without first prefacing a clear if, thus demanding a space in time where this hypothetical could possibly occur? Time is so degrading.

I’d like to share some of my unsettling thoughts on clockwork with you. I crafted the excerpt below so as to mirror the expressive language of the career philosopher.

The philosopher and the staircase

Are we destined to become captive corpses of the maleficent retrospect? The resounding thunders of antiquity and far gone goodbyes rumble from a distance. The sensory memories intimated by simple smells and atmospheres still bloom from time to time. I recall everything with clarity, as if an experience made by the mind, but in this exact moment. I relish these experiences, but they are smoke, clear by the eye but never firm enough to wholly grasp. I cannot reproduce what I feel was once a very real, powerfully perceived experience. There are only remnants of these moments that I swear I once experienced in full. I cannot prove them right or wrong, for they are stillborn(s) in my mind; with no thorough delineation, always juxtaposed to my current reality.

Did I graduate the past with only my imagination to behold? I cannot hold fast any of my belongings from the times before; forms disappear and shadows growl inside, never barking. Forms and shadows, not in Plato’s celestial world and otherwise, though alluding to Plato will allow an apt metaphor for this strictly terrestrial experience that I intend to relate; not drawing lines from the apparent to the real world — but Nietzsche’s critical philosophy is what I will grapple with for the time being. This state of decadence that we all seem to find ourselves in, this world of decay that we are strapped and bound to, the realized manifestation of Camus’ coined term – the absurdity of man. A loose embrace of these concepts would deem my intended utility the potential futility of the proactive life within the uncertainty of time itself. These grains of salt that are to be taken so lightly — I cannot help but encumber myself with an existential boulder. And these grains of sand that seem to slip through my fingers, and I mean all physical things and subjective experiences: whether I mention rocky paths and 12-mile hikes, or a gift wrapped and mothball-consumed Christmas sweater, or a pristine summer holiday by the beach, or an all-nighter studying for a college exam, or a good laugh with lifelong friends, or fluctuating middle school love interests, or a neat glass of Pappy Van Winkle’s — they are all to travel away eventually, whether I wait now, or I wait and think to begin waiting later on. So I am a vessel which moves to and fro, and constantly [never nigh]; either that, or I am at a stalemate of sorts, sitting as the spectator, watching everything unfurl, erode, and move beyond, directly before me. From forms to shadows… From perception to memory. What if all of these memories, seemingly once tactile perceptions, were made today?

What if I were born today with these memories, never seeing anything more or less than what I am to see necessarily? On this day, I woke and I labored as I was expected to. I, at least, expect myself to be moving in some form or another, whether this labor was socially productive, or an introspective and idle type of labor at the most. I must have moved, for my hair was clean and combed early on, but now it is matted and mixed with some kind of memory. So I assume that I was awake today — I must begin somewhere, just as Fichte and Socrates and Aristotle and Descartes and all of the Greats did before me. And now I am here, in this room, at my desk, facing a window on a calm winter’s eve, typing these letters which I seemingly siphon from my brain with the burden of hard-fought intention. Now look, I have these bruises and scars. I can count and perceive each one, and on each count I can, for the most part, discriminate between each circumstance which led me to accumulate these “memories”.

I can look at this knuckle and recall the day that I burnt myself on an iron skillet brim-full of hot bacon grease. I can look at this arm and recall a bizarre encounter with a branch that came violently swinging down while I trekked the Red River Gorge with good friends. And what is most interesting: that I typed many of these words yesterday and yet here I am, returning to expand a field, returning to sew more seed, grafting existence onto preexistence, wedging my present thoughts into my past remarks. Maybe I can hold onto something from yesterday, still yet? A remnant of the past; another scar for me to bear.

And these different moments, past, present, and the in-between, they continue to aggregate and mix in together, on the facade of this humble page. Even the future, which seems so distant and intangible: it too will soon be snagged among these fading present moments. The future, only to become a scar?

I can sort through my pop-up hamper and naturally find a black and a navy sock that I mismatched for a date which went horribly wrong. In the process, I even found my hiking socks caked with dried mud from a camping trip I took 3 weeks ago. I did not know it had been this long. I’ve either lost track of time or my recollections are painfully faulty. Clearly time is elusive. It has made covert plans to escape us in the black of night, like a dog that runs into hiding when it is about to expire but in constant succession. We are but a passenger on its perpetual train.

I must liken it to walking through a chalk white path of snow amidst the worst of a brisk winter storm. The evergreens suspend the validity of time itself, but each imprint former-made by my footstep is just as easily swept away as the next. The snow dust will so easily gather at our heels, covering up the marks we just made. 10 minutes ago is now a muffled occurrence within the progression of our strictly linear timeline.

But because it is so elusive, shall we give up our time for idle wanderings? For our grasp on life can be so easily dismantled. Shall we squander the precious and neglect the productive and forget each passing day’s potential and dodge at love’s unpredictability? For it all seems so uncertain. Should I throw this dying day away? For it will soon be thrown far beyond me, as surely as the dinner bell rings.

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What ocean will throw the same wave twice? Not one. While the water cycle will follow through once more, our timeline will not. And yet, once a wave is thrown, it is poured back into the mixture and spewed out a second and a third time – but in a completely different manner. Not one man can take a hearty inhale and blow a rain pellet back into the sky. You insist, “Rain, rain, go away, come again another day.” In the time spent doing so, thousands more rain drops have come pummeling down without hesitation. Backtracking attempts are a futile endeavor at best.

So let us throw it all away and run back and forth in wild confusion. Swinging at the wind with palms for gloves is useless. There is no point in running the race, for we know there is a decisive end to it all once we break through the iron ribbon.

But alas. No. For we can so often be wrong in our arrogant reason! It is precisely because of the elusiveness of time that we should grasp every waking millisecond of it with our strongest arm, squeezing heartily until every drop of life is drained from time’s smoky limbs! How dare we pander and meander around the useless information and gossip of our day, just as easily discarded on the morrow. How much time will we waste before we realize how much time has been wasted? A prolonged nap is a bullet to the head. You need not pretend that this is your final day on earth. Each day is your last day, mortal man, for uncertainty lies at the turn in each corner. Our continuous lust for control will cause us a lifetime of ignorance.

How are we to approach a disintegrating life, knowing that the future before us will just as quickly slip away? It is our lust for control which plagues us. We must ride each wave now, for it will not be thrown twice. Heed these words: Ride each wave now, for it will not be thrown twice.

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Read below and tell me, will this be you?

“At the end of it all, my retrospect has become a blurred and disconcerting tunnel vision. My anthill moments were few and far between. My I love you’s were misplaced and dismembered among the busyness, confusion, and complexities of my every day life. I overcorrected a variety of useless and insignificant personal problems, problems that don’t seem so big after all, now that I think about it. I was too busy to lend a helping hand. I chose a nap over an adventure. I never got to say goodbye. I didn’t check a single item off my bucket list. Besides, those were just things I said I’d like to do. I never planned on proactively pursuing any of it. I now realize every fantasy was a very real possibility. I focused on the unfairness of the world and let it drive insecure inaction, and in my inactivity, I inadvertently increased the suffering of countless others who do not have the same privileges and resources that I have. At best I reclined, a member of the audience, letting unjust, unfair, and unfortunate things happen to other people. At worst, I continued to hand them new chains – daily – and I was selfish in holding the keys to my own status. At best, I spoke the truth unkindly and with little restraint. At worst, I spoke no truth at all.

Where did my life go? I sat in wait for the next big thing and it never came. I forfeited every chance to make a life worth living because I was always in the baseless pursuit of finding a future worth living in or attempting to escape life’s weighty responsibility. I have done nothing more than survive and, after killing every opportunity, I now realize I have destroyed the very fate I claimed to own.”

*Featured header image, credits d/t: “Walking in the snow” by John Morton is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

*First image, credits d/t: “The philosopher and the staircase” by Chris Waits is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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