In my last post I wrote about deciding to discard my watch to help remind me to live in this very moment; to experience life as it presents itself to me. After a day and a half of not wearing my watch I find that I barely miss it. First, I am surrounded by timepieces. There is a clock displayed on the dashboard of my car, on my smart phone, in almost every place I visit. Clocks are ubiquitous! Even listening to the radio in my car I am reminded of the time with great frequency. I even find myself looking to my wrist from force of habit to check the time but this very act provides me with the reminder for which I discarded the watch in the first instance. I am reminded that I am here and now in the moment; a stream of time flooded by traces of past moments and of moments yet to come.
On the same topic but a different thread, I want to share a dream I had last night. I was in the hospital, the first day after my upcoming prostate surgery. Several weird things were happening. First, and quite appropriate to the theme of the prior paragraph, somehow my iPhone disappeared from the night stand. It should have been in the cradle set on the night display showing the time. There was a huge clock, nearly floor to ceiling, directly across from my bed. At the foot of the bed my little dog, Mazel, was sleeping at my feet. There were a few other things going as well, but unrelated to time so I’ll pass over them for the moment. As I thought about this strange dream I concluded that Mazel was the only critter in the room who absolutely lives in the moment. Time means nothing to him. Food, water, getting his ears rubbed, running out in the yard are his concerns and in no particular order. The missing iPhone and the over-sized clock were reminders of that which I seek to rid myself; being tied to the clock as a measure of my life.
It is difficult to not think in terms of time, of the precision that the measurement of time brings to modern life. That measurement, however, is but one of many ways to look at the very notion of time. Across the history of measured time, there was no standard to be met. Mechanical clocks do not make an appearance until late in the Middle Ages. Once mechanical clocks appeared, each town’s clock tower measured local time only. Whole discussions about time occur in the Talmud, the Jewish document that canonizes the oral law. In a world without clocks but in a world where the precise time of prayer is important, how does one determine when the sun rises and sets? How much light is enough to declare that the sun has risen or how much darkness determines when the sun has set? If one’s liturgical being depends on the answers to these questions and there are no clocks to guide one’s actions, then there are no simple answers.
Precise measurement of time did not occur until railroads needed to create schedules. People needed to know when the 6:15 train was going to arrive and would it arrive on time. Railroad schedules could not rely on local time as a correct measure so the railroads lobbied to create time as a precise measure that would be uniform across their routes.
Precision measurement of time is a modern innovation, one that strips meaning from the very moment of existence, placing that moment on a scale of moments that appear to be grounded in the real. I don’t find any great solace in that idea. If one admits to the idea that existence is a continuum, then one can identify very little about this very moment, a moment so brief as to be infinitely short. What appears as time, either present or past, is not much more than a trace, one that fades as it recedes from the now. One can, on the other hand, only project into a future unknown. Projection, on this view, is a waste of valuable resources that might otherwise be applied to living in this very moment.
The length of one’s life is unknown, but it is clear that when one is diagnosed with a disease that has the potential to end life, there is cause to reflect on how one has lived and thoughts turn to the intentionality of living life to the fullest. The only way I can think of my ability to life the remainder of my life, no matter how long I have, is to focus on this very moment, the time I know I have, and just live.