Saturday, January 10, 2009

Time and tide

Doesn't this look like a good place to just sit, stare out at the water and think? As a person of the sometimes too often hermitous and pensive persuasion, having these sorts of spots away from the world is really important to me. These past few days have me feeling particularly pensive.

The death of my uncle has me thinking a lot about my father, who will already have been gone for 13 years this May. I've been talking with a couple of friends (Jen and Anne) about this, since they too suffer from APO (Adult Paternal Orphanhood) and have come to the conclusion that a huge part of the sadness is knowing that with my uncle died a whole repository of memory about my father's early life. There is now no one alive who remembers whole decades of my father's existence. Sure, there could be some early friends around still, but they'd be old by now too (if alive at all) and they wouldn't know him like his brother did. Then I think about who will remember him when I'm gone and my mother is gone and my nieces are no longer.

Who will remember any of us? Who will remember me? What difference will my existence have made? Will an old, tattered picture of me one day be found in a box whose owners who will have no idea who I was? What difference will any of us (you included) have made? Will we have done the things we wanted to? In the end, will they even have been important at all? It is all such a mystery. And that reminds me of that passage from Issak Dineson that I know I've posted here, but am now going to quote again because it is too lovely and aprospos to not share:

If I know a song of Africa, - I thought -, of the Giraffe, of the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a color that I had on or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of the Ngong look out for me?

Such concepts, the nature of time and memory. Having spent 98% of my life thusfar completely disinterested in sciences like physics, I've never really given the time element much thought. Being in the middle of reading Jack Finney's Time and Again at a time in my life when a part of my family history has died, however, I am particularly intrigued by it. The novel is about an artist who is recruited by a covert agency of the U.S. government to participate in a mysterious project involving time travel back to 19th century New York. It takes as its premise the notion that one can step from a moment in the present and back into the past, finding oneself in the same location, only twenty or a hundred or a thousand years earlier. The implication is that what we think of as the passing of time is all happening at once and that one can move in and out of specific time periods via special techniques (which the author never - or at least not before page 272! - divulges), if one just knows what to do. I suppose, in a way, memory allows us to do the same thing, but is limited to our own experience.

Either way, the world and existence itself are such big places that there is always going to be an element of mystery attached until we can glance back at them with the eye of experience. I'm not sure what that really means. I don't know what any of it means, but I sense that it underscores part of my reasons for my January project of focusing on those things that make my life (and hopefully that of others) happier and better. Hopefully, if I can do that, one day when I am gone, there will be someone left who remembers me and that I did my best to make a difference.

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