I waste a lot of time. So far I’ve gotten away with it, because there always seems to be another tomorrow waiting to replace the yesterday I spent cleaning my keyboard and counting deposit bottles and scrutinizing the checking account statement to identify that mysterious nine-dollar charge. Weeks, months, and entire years have vanished this way, without much to show for them. But there’s a tiny area of my mind — the smart part, I guess — that is aware of finite time, as well as its passage. I can sense it emerging, with grace, from the boundless potential of the future. And I watch it slip with ease through the eye of a needle, and hurtle down a grim staircase into the cluttered basement of the past.
Time does not fly, I have determined. It plummets. It has mass and dimension, and like an object falling to Earth, it accelerates according to the laws of physics. The tendency to squander such a limited and diminishing resource, then, grows more disappointing with each stray thought.
Not that I spend every minute of every day dwelling on small concepts and engaged in pointless activity. Sometimes I stand and look up at that locked vault looming over the landscape. Behind its thick walls are the answers to the ultimate questions. How did the universe begin? Where did we come from? Could there be life on other planets? What happens after we die? Is there a God?
But I don’t linger long. Those secrets seem beyond my grasp, and I soon wander off, just as I do when I arrive at the post office and find myself confronted by an unyielding door and a sign that says they’re closed. After a moment of hesitation, I begin rifling through my mental calendar, searching for the statutory holiday I’d apparently overlooked. Then I turn and head back home, hoping to replace my intended productivity with a suitable substitute.
Almost always, this effort is a futile one. Helpless in the face of the unsolvable, I retreat to that place where I can conjure and ponder my own private riddles.
* * * * *
“You see things, and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say ‘Why not?’” This well-known and often-mangled quote was written by George Bernard Shaw in his play Back To Methuselah, and later employed to great effect by all three of the Kennedy brothers. It acknowledges the power of wonder, the importance of glimpsing what doesn’t yet exist.
I do that sometimes, usually when I’ve had too much candy. More often, though, I veer off in a somewhat deviant direction.
For example, at this very instant, while I’m typing these words — and again while you’re reading them — someone in the world is drinking coffee. Right now. I know this because there are seven billion humans on the planet, and a lot of them drink coffee in the morning. Also, the Earth rotates, so it’s always morning for a quarter of the globe.
I find this idea comforting, for reasons that I can’t fathom. Maybe it’s because I need to be certain about something, and there just aren’t that many choices. I don’t know if the wealthy and powerful really are plotting the next global catastrophe, or if interest rates will go up or down, or if an asteroid will slam into South Dakota next month. But somebody somewhere just took a sip of coffee, and maybe even poured in a little more sugar.
Then again, there’s no way to be sure, is there? Maybe there was a momentary freeze, an imperceptible gap in the otherwise continual flow of daily coffee consumption. Or maybe it isn’t continual. It’s possible that no one has ever had a drink of coffee, or any hot beverage, at exactly twelve seconds past 8:19, Central Standard Time. It could just be that at that moment, people everywhere are taking a bite of their toast, or wiping some spilled milk off their pants, or pulling on their socks, or trying to decide – small, medium, or large? Impossible to know, which is what keeps me coming back, because it’s also impossible to be wrong. It’s like an all-you-can-eat salad bar, without the mushrooms and broccoli and low-calorie dressing.
* * * * *
Yesterday, a brown fox ran across the road in front of my car. There was a stretch of time when I didn’t see the fox, because he wasn’t there yet. And then he was there, but just outside my peripheral vision. At some point, he entered my visual field, although the image still hadn’t registered. And then I saw him. But I can’t remember precisely when I went from not seeing him to seeing him. It was like going from night to day, without the sunrise. Is this how we fail to notice so many things that matter? Is this how we miss our lives? People say we should live in the now, but when is that, exactly? Past and future don’t quite touch. They’re separated by a bubble of present that’s gone before we finish saying the word.
I’ve given this enough thought for today. Besides, my keyboard needs cleaning again, and there are more deposit bottles to return. And I just noticed another checking account withdrawal that I can’t explain. But I’ll probably come back to it tomorrow. At least I hope so.