I am certain
one day people will look back on our enlightened age and conclude
that we were an ignorant and deluded bunch of savages--much as
we look back on the Middle Ages today. I actually had this blinding
revelation while I was coming home from work, during one of those
consciousness shifts when the perfectly normal is exposed in all
its demented reality.
pulled in at the station and I paused to let the throng of passengers
get ahead of me. Too tired to try and beat them to the stairs,
I hung back and watched. Ignoring each other as if they were deadly
enemies, yet bonded shoulder-to-shoulder closer than most family
units, the passenger pack surged relentlessly up the stairs.
feet pounded a soul-less rhythm from step to step. Behind me the
doors closed, the train moved on. I looked at my watch, a natural
thing to do, and then my brain lit up. Two millennia ago, even
two centuries ago, I would not have done that. I would not have
had a watch to look at. The hour, the year, probably even the
century would have been unknown to me. I'm not one of those people
who thinks they were Queen Elizabeth I or Cleopatra in a former
life. My status would have been fairly low. I'd have known what
season it was, known when to get up with the sun, when to pray
and plow, and plant by the seasons and the moon.
We are obsessed
with time. We do everything at the same time. Aberrations like
daylight-saving time and different time zones provide no real
exception to the rule. While we are waiting in our sleep on one
side of the planet for the alarm to go off, our daily schedule
is frantically being re-enacted on the other side. Around the
western world, we march to the beat of that ticking metronome.
middle of the last millennium, people started to become aware
of history as chapters in a book of time. Now we have shortened
those chapters to decades or less-the '70s, '80s, '90s--and the
biggest question on the eve of the 21st Century was not "What
if we don't make it?" but "What shall we call the zeros?"
It is as if
time is chopped up into unrelated chunks and no longer part of
a seamless whole of human evolution and development. We cannot
figure anything out at all unless we have a tag for it. We give
the years names, we break the year up into special days and weeks
so we know where we are, what to listen to, what to sell. The
universe is huge, chaotic and un-signposted, so we signpost like
crazy. The year is pocked with dates: Christmas, Mother's Day,
Easter, Red This Day, White That Week Today I saw date-expired
Easter eggs for sale. Must be left over from last year. No one
seems to envisage a future different from today, but it will happen.
A time will come when the year will pass without these celebratory
punctuation marks, when tinsel and Easter eggs will be kept in
museums and clocks on train stations will gather dust. Our obsession
with time will become archaic and amusing. Who knows what time
it is in the universe? Will spacefarers really still be telling
the time by GMT?
Or will we
have learned to flow with the rhythm of time again? Knowing, of
course, that nature keeps its own record of history, and throws
in a period every now and then by extinguishing all life on the
planet. Now that's the way to end a chapter! Makes our nervous
little semicolons almost pointless.
© 2000 Gail Kavanagh All Rights Reserved
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