I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Time traveling

Me and Chris in the 1960s
I've used this picture before on my blogs, as it's one of my favorites of all time. My then-husband Don took it and he's gone now, along with Chris and that young mother. However, I've managed to continue breathing in and out, continued to sleep and wake for another fifty years since that picture was taken.

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.


Red said...

You say a lot in this early morning post. Yes, time travel? We certainly do go back in our memory bank. What about imagination? I like novels with shape shifters and time changes. Are these special travels. As I said , you bring much to think about with this post. You have a great introduction with the photo of you and Chris.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I love that quote "every moment is a gift; that's why we call it a present."

Time travel, I find that subject so interesting and watch any show that features it. Somewhere in Time is one of my favorite movies.

As for the moving on part...since we don't remember where we were before we were born...or do we and it takes five years to forget and make new memories...how is that for a thought on this Sunday. Not remembering is sometimes a good thing BUT I think the place you were before you were "born" is the place you will return. I also think that in that place we had soul mates...and sometimes we are lucky enough to find them on this earth.
End of sermon...you have a wonderful Sunday:)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting concept of time. I am cognizant of the passage of time and how rapidly I am aging.

Linda Reeder said...

We watched the movie "Interstellar" last night, and so time travel, or the relativity of time, is on my mind. I am not a believer in time travel or miracle rescues of humanity in outer space. I am one of those who believes in the here and now - this is it, make the best of it that you can.
I remember the past, sometimes fondly, and I ponder the future, sometimes fearfully, but I live in the "present", and I think that's why it is so important for me to create beauty around me. I want the present to be a gift - the gift of this life that I have right now.
That photo is hauntingly beautiful.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, That is just a great photo of you and Chris fifty years ago. I can see why it is one of your favorites. In this post you touched on some things that I have also been thinking about … for example, being grateful for all the days I’ve enjoyed and with full realization that I have already exceeded the life expectancy attributed to me at birth by U. S. Statistical Standards. So, I guess these years are gravy. Trying to put all this together with the concept of time does fascinate me. I really liked what you said here: “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.” So true! I look forward to your weekly reflections, and, until the next one, take care and be well.

Rian said...

DJan, I do believe in time travel... although I don't understand it. When I dream and my kids are babies, I see them now but *as they were*. Yes, this could be a memory... or the manipulation of a memory, but I feel like it's real (and in my mind, perception is reality). Remembering is different (at least to me). But I agree that a good writer can transport you to another place - as can a memory or possibly a dream. And I guess I've always believed that if you can think it, it's probably do-able. In the movie, "Interstellar", they play with this 4th and 5th dimension idea.

Arkansas Patti said...

Love that pic of you and Chris. What joy and love radiating from your faces.
I had a friend who really believed in reincarnation to achieve perfection. She felt she was almost there and use to call herself "practically perfect Louise."

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

That photo of you and Chris is just magical. I don't think much about time travel, but I do think about being more "present" in the present. So I love your reminder that we should give our loved ones a present. Be there for them. There's hardly anything better than that!

jo(e) said...

I love both the photo and your reflections.

Sally Wessely said...

That photo is hauntingly beautiful. It is magical. It truly did capture a precious moment in time. I wonder what you, and Chris, and Don were thinking at that exact moment when you were captured on film.

I remember having a dream about Julie. In the dream, someone asked me how old she was. I replied with, "She has no age. She is now timeless." It struck me so that I awoke remembering it and the dream has stayed with me. She is beyond time now. Time is something we only experience on earth.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Beautiful quote and a wonderful post! I suspect we are all time travelers.

Rita said...

I do love that photo. It is one to be treasured. :)
Time seems to be a lot more fluid and less linear than we think it is. The past is like swiss cheese. We actually remember so little of the many days of our lives. Just the highlights that live softly, shine brightly, or explode vividly in our memory. It's all quite amazing. :)

Linda Myers said...

Almost a different person, that young woman in the photo with Chris. I get it.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I don't know where to begin. Such an incredible post. Very thoughtful. In regard to re-reading something we read long ago, I think it is like travel. We see things with different eyes at different ages. What we noticed and remembered at 20 is completely different at 35, 50, 58.

Time travel has always fascinated me. Could be why I loved Somewhere in Time and now love Outlander. The concept is fascinating.

That photo of you in the beginning. So hopeful. So lovely. I'd post it every chance you get.

I also liked your line of if there is nothing after, you won't know so if won't bother you. Comfort in that. Meanwhile, our studies continue.

Glenda Beall said...

Great photo. You looked so happy. I am glad you are happy now. It is so hard to find happiness after terrible loss of loved ones, but I feel I am as happy as anyone in my place could be.
Time dragged by when I was a kid, but now it flies fast. This is a fine post with lots to make us think. Thanks.

Mel said...

I'm playing catch-up on your posts again, my own little time travel back one Sunday at a time.

I love the picture, and this post. Time travel is one of my favorite genres and I love to imagine living in the past times of my ancestors. I've always felt like I was born in the wrong time somehow. As I've gotten older, I feel like my past is someone else's life somehow, or a story I read long ago. So strange.

I will have to reread Grapes of Wrath again, because I was a teenager when I read it the first time and I know I didn't have the depth to appreciate it like I would now.

Have you read East of Eden? A librarian told me it was the best book she ever read, and I have to agree, it's up there with the best.

Steinbeck said about East of Eden: "It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years. I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this."

Happy reading, and happy time traveling :)