Watching The Hourglass
By John Hicks
I’m not afraid I’ll die this week or within the month or year. I may, but I don’t dwell on the possibility, and actually, I am probably correct. Another year is survivable. Nevertheless, I will not live to see the year 2080 nor 2070 nor even 2050 when I would reach the age of 98. Projecting thusly, my life, whose length when I was a teenager seemed to extend almost indefinitely into the next century, now appears abruptly abbreviated. I’m in that “next century,” the 21st, whose years once seemed like remote peaks in the silent landscape of time, yet I have already stood on some of those peaks, and others loom clearly before me no longer obscured by the mists of the far future.
I don’t look far forward in time anymore. I am much more nearsighted, wondering where I might spot the terminus of my life close at hand. 2040? 2035? Do I hear 2030? There are no survey markers for this personal frontier. Even so, I sense I am close to stumbling on my life’s limit.
Why give it any thought anyway? What are years but a human fabrication like national borders drawn on the surface of the earth, and the chronological peaks that I referred to earlier are no more than “Magic Mountains” of Disneyland, heaped up by the mind of man. Human time is the matrix of society. The human clock is all well and good for schedules, appointments, and rendezvouses. It works well for history, too; and when I die, I do care how my name and my life will be preserved in history. I care, but I know that my self will endure only in fragments and endure only to eventually and irretrievably vanish. If we give the matter of our posthumous preservation any thought, we should face the fact that however we might be remembered whether in an almanac or encyclopedia, on the Net or in a footnote, in a family tree or in the hearts of those that knew us, we are doomed to obliteration.
“We all shall die even the dead,” Uumano succinctly said.
There is another time, however, a way of looking at time that’s unacknowledged by most. According to that manner of observing time, the flight of light and the slide of a snail or the life of a bumblebee and that of a galaxy represent equal manifestations. This standard of time is the vast, inexorable, and mysterious unfolding of Nature.
During our lives, we adapt to the human construct of social time—its minutes, hours, years and so forth. Nevertheless, from birth, we are committed to Nature’s time. We are adoptees of society, but children of nature, blood brothers to the stars. Nature recognizes all of its children and apportions each according to its role in its stupendous story. Nature overlooks nothing. It excludes nothing; not the Redwood nor the robin, or the starfish nor the star. Not Everest. Not the tempest. Not krill nor quasar. All phenomena indelibly etch their existence in the annals of causal time.
I find no solace in Uumano’s observation, but he was talking about human time. Human history will shed any memory of me as easily as I shed a flake of skin. Indeed, I am woven into human history as are we all. Yet with time, that fabric will fray and unravel and twist away on the solar wind.
None of us will be remembered, but take heart. We have an enduring place in the “minutes” of Nature. You and I have a place as do our mortal brethren the squirrel, the bear, the tern, the manatee and the nameless stars long since gone from which our very selves were made.