QUESTION: How long is now?
I imagine that any answer to this question will depend on a person’s individual perspective. It can be a simple answer or a complicated one.
An existentialist probably thinks that now lasts forever. Now is always with us, even if the events that compose now are ever changing.
A physicist working in quantum theory and who subscribes to mutli-dimensional string theory might also believe now is forever, except there are an infinite numbers of nows existing simultaneously.
And yet a pragmatist who is asked how long now is in their world might believe that now lasts as long as the thought that occupies the moment. Once there is a change of thought, there is a change in the moment and a change in the now. Every new idea that shifts in and out of a person’s consciousness marks the beginning and end of a now moment. I think.
Now. It’s this moment on my bed, dog at my feet, laptop on my belly at the end of a packed Saturday. Before I finish the sentence, now has shifted to: my daughter coming up the stairs, home from her evening, me standing in the bathroom brushing my teeth. And again and again. Any given now might be crowded with former and future nows: memories, say, of the time when my daughters were small and they would climb on my lap, exactly the sweet smell of their heads, or anticipation of what tomorrow or this week will bring, the peanut butter cookie I hope to buy from the bakery on Monday. How long is now? Now is the place we try to go on the yoga mat: our breath, stillness, enough. A pause from all the planning and remembering. If we get there, time stops. Does that make now short or long? Once I interviewed the Supreme Patriarch of the Cambodian Buddhist church (through an interpreter). He was so “in the now” that we had to scrap the interview and the article. If I asked him about his childhood, he couldn’t say. If I asked him about politics, he didn’t know. We had the sun streaming through the drapes of his Bangkok hotel room, we had his saffron robes and my sandals, my skirt to the ankle, we had that moment and only that moment. He personified now. I have never met someone who smiled so broadly and so continuously. I was twenty four, but I knew that I wanted a piece of what he had. Now, if you can get there and make it last longer than a moment, looks like a very peaceful place to go. From Chicago where I’m mired in memories and hopes that take me out of the now, where the moment has shifted to morning coffee, I’m sending a hopeful and persistent chant of “om.”
I have never been good at looking ahead. When I first heard the term existential, I thought, “How apt”. And there ended my curiosity to read Sartre, because I moved on, though memories are still well-able to dissolve me into tears. Looking back is easy, There’s a record. It’s the looking forward that’s tough. It is a troublesome personal quality, this inability to plan well. Instead, my life often happens accidentally, or fortuitously. I rely on luck, events are fragments seamlessly pieced together, with all the edges well-defined. I always try to do my best job, and I’m grateful in this chain of moments, some longer, some shorter, the now, and the now, and now again, that is my life.
Here is some of that time captured as it was experienced, that makes perfect sense to me.
Michèle published the new Everydays post on Monday and I’ve got a week to get the next assignment in!
Just like when I was a school girl with a paper due the following Monday, I started the week with good intentions. I meant to start writing after I got home from the gym, but I had housework. No, really!
Tuesday came. I gave the subject some thought. Time? What was the question again? Slow or fast? I took a nap. Tuesday went downhill fast.
Wednesday arrived way too early. My friend bailed out of our gym meeting and so did I, leaving me with time to write on my essay, or goof off. What’s the question? What is time now? Weird. It could be anything. I need to think a little more.
After I goofed off it was Thursday and the mail arrived with license plates to install on my car. So, I thought about screwing them on and about starting my essay in good time, but then I thought again and decided I’d wait until Friday.
After all, the cats haven’t had much attention this week and Daisy just settled in on my shoulder. Looks like I’m not getting anything done today.
Friday came along with a trip to the gym, grocery shopping, a nap and afterwards the search for a screwdriver to attach the license plates to the car.
Not in the junk drawer. Not in the toolbox in the greenhouse. Oh, there’s my ratcheting screwdriver set. What’s it doing on the storage bench? No matter, wham, bam, phew, that was fast. Wonder why I ever put it off.
Back in the house the pressure is on. The Everydays. Sigh. Procrastinated again.
Here I am, if I don’t start tonight, I’ll feel pressured and I hate feeling pressured. Better get at it, so I can think about it overnight and rewrite if necessary. Monday comes early in Australia.
Wherever did the time go?
Now is as long as it takes to make dinner at the end of a long day.
Now is as long as it takes to work, to teach, to parent, to fold laundry, to fall asleep while reading bedtime stories.
Now is as long as the latest episode of Trumpcast.
Now is as long as the work I should be doing for the non-profit, for the bi-weekly.
Now is as long as the play, the movie, the dinner I should be sharing with Tanya.
Now is as long as Harper’s basketball game.
Now is as long as Harper’s soccer game.
Now is as long as Theo’s gymnastics class.
Now is as long as it takes to respond to Jeff on Facebook.
Now is as long as Herzog’s Lo and Behold.
Now is as long as it takes to find a lost loved one using voting records.
Now is as long as it takes for cancer to claim another friend.
Now is as long as it takes to drink a glass of bourbon.
Now is as long as it takes for R.E.M. to exhume McCarthy.
Now is as long as the end of the world as we know it.
Now is as long as 11 songs… as long as 39 minutes.
Now is as long as the time between 2017 and 1987.
Now is as long as friends ask “how are you”.
Now is as long as friends confirm “I am fine”.
Now is as long as “checking is o.k.”.
Now is as long as the fibers of a 30 year old piece of paper hold the call to hear, to listen, to send, to see you soon…
Now is as long as a friendship.
Now is as long as everything.
We stood at the top of Castle Hill. The Mediterranean Sea glimmered in the sun three hundred yards beneath us. Amy and I had taken a train from Paris to the south of France during a break from our college study abroad program. We had made our way to the famous beach, where we rolled up our pant legs and walked the empty shoreline. The spring sea rolled over our feet, and tiny pebbles squished between our toes until we grew cold.
Finding the stone staircase behind us, we had climbed the time-worn steps to the cemetery at the top of the hill. Amy had wanted to find a memorial. The late afternoon sun cast shadows over the raised tombs as the gravel shuffled beneath us. I breathed in the ocean as I searched the graves for clues to personal stories.
We found the memorial and wandered around the nearby graves, all unified by the simple marking of a star. In silence, I read the stones of unknown faces.
“They have persecuted me badly. And still, they did not defeat me.”
I pulled my eyes from the tomb and searched Amy’s face as the Holocaust came alive.
Silent tears fell ran down her cheeks and thickened her lashes as she looked away. “My grandmother…,” she uttered, unable to say more, but I understood.
Amy was a Jew.
I had known, and yet not known until we stood together at the top of Castle Hill in the south of France on a spring day in 1990.
Twenty-seven years later back in the United States on a winter day in January, President Trump closes the country’s borders to all refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries, legal or not.
I worry about my Muslim friends and what their future holds.
I think of Amy. I think of the Holocaust. I’m back on Castle Hill.