|Me and Chris in the 1960s|
The other day I saw a poll to find out whether people think time travel is possible. Interestingly, three-quarters of the respondents said yes. And I guess it really does depend on how you define it, since I've been time traveling just looking at old pictures and reading old books. Yesterday I finished re-reading Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939), and I have to say that if I really did read it long ago, that person didn't have the background to understand it, because it was like reading it for the first time. My recollection is that I read it, but my sister recently told me it was her favorite book of all time and I wanted to remind myself about it. It's possible that I read it because it was an assignment and not because I wanted to read it and it left no imprint on my mind.
While I was reading it this week, I was transported back into time, into the days of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and the migrant experience that Steinbeck captured so perfectly. He wrote the book in a few months and famously said, "I've done my damndest to rip the reader's nerves to rags." Well, once I got into the book I found it impossible to set aside for long, and I found myself ruminating on the meaning it has for me, almost a century later. Is this time travel? I went back to those days while I was immersed in the book, and after I finished it, the world around me continues to look different.
I've also been thinking about what it means to live a long life. I used to say that I can no longer claim that my hair is prematurely white, because now almost everyone who is my age has white hair. It's also true that I am getting to the place where I wouldn't be able to say that I died a premature death, since I've lived much longer than many people ever had a chance to live. I've watched myself pass through all the stages of life, and now I am at the final one, where the cells in my body are getting tired and worn out, and one of these days something will give up or give out. It's possible I might have another decade or two, but I am not so naive as to believe that the time will be filled with robust health. I do everything I can to keep sickness at bay, but there's just so much a person can do to stave off the ravages of time. But that doesn't mean I'm not a happy person, glad to have had the chance to live a good life and be grateful for each day as it comes. I've got a family, a community, and a partner who all contribute to my ability to look forward to each day with optimism.
I know that some people believe that once they die, they will live again in another body, reset the clock to zero and start over again. Years ago I studied the Tibetan Book of the Dead and learned about the bardo, the time between death and the next rebirth. In Buddhism, as I understand it, you spend your current life trying to finish things up so you won't be reborn, attempting to remove your soul from the wheel of reincarnation. Sometimes I experience things that seem to have come from another lifetime, but there's a whole lot of memories from this life that are lost to my conscious mind. All I know for sure is that I won't experience what comes after death until I've gotten there, and if there's nothing afterwards, well I won't know it, will I? Therefore, living a virtuous life is a prudent thing to do, and plus it makes me feel good to do so. A quote from The Grapes of Wrath that stuck with me:
There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.I've been trying to understand the whole concept of time, since it seems to be a construct we humans have created in order to understand the passage of time. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it. If you look it up on Google, you will get an entire array of ideas. I especially like thinking about time as the fourth dimension, which is independent of events and things simply occur in sequence. That would make it possible to actually travel backwards and forwards in time. But frankly, I think it's much more likely that time is neither an event nor a thing, so it wouldn't be possible to travel along it.
The young girl in that picture above is me, but that is not the me of this moment. I find it fascinating to think about what time actually might be, whether it's an illusion or simply a way to measure and order events and the intervals between them. When I was reading my book yesterday, part of me was sitting in my chair, and another part of me was back in the Dust Bowl days, packing up my belongings and setting out for California. When I woke this morning, I left the world of dreams, yawned and got up to begin my day. The dream world I inhabited with one part of me sure felt real, but it didn't travel with me into the present moment. This moment is now beginning to change as I finish up this post, thinking about the upcoming day, one with what looks like sunshine outside, and an entire universe to explore.
I'm enjoying my life, whether it's just the this moment or thinking back about other moments, other lives that travel inside my mind right into the present. I'm reminded of that quote that "every moment is a gift; that's why we call it a present." So I will leave you, my dear readers, with that quote while I venture on into my Sunday. Be well and be sure to give your loved ones a present.