Last fall, my boyfriend Arthur gave me a book to read. I remember clearly the moment he pulled it from his backpack and told me that it was perfect for me. That moment, almost a year ago now, is now burning in my mind.
He loved the book and was giving it to me not only because he felt that I would love the theme, but because it was a journal. Besides my obsession with documentation, he knew that the many short entries would hold my attention and be easy to process and absorb if I read it before bed.
My mother found the book with a stack of my belongings sometime over the holidays. True to form she read it all in one night. Later, my friend Sarah borrowed the book from my apartment without my knowledge. Upon returning it, she told me that I of all people had to read it. During this time Arthur never noticed the book or asked for it back. I remember telling him once that I had not read it and in his gentle way he again urged me to.
About a week ago, I finished slowly rationing the last of my unread David Sedaris and wondered what I should read next. Osho’s Sex Matters? Osho came highly recommended by a friend and coworker last fall completely out of the blue, but I had not made any progress. Or should I choose this small book that had been waiting so patiently for me these many months?
I chose the book in question, and after 5 pages understood why Arthur and Sarah were so adamant. This book was written to be read by me in this very specific moment in my life. I am not a believer in “God”, but I do think that time and memory have the power to work in funny and mysterious ways. Until now, this short book had been waiting for me to open it. Many a night I glanced past it, but this week, a week where I am feeling burnt out and uncertain about my project, I chose to open it. Inside, I found inspiration. A continual questioning of the essence and purpose of time. Fabulous. Fantastic. Perfect. And I’ve hardly started!
Tonight, the first story I read is an entry entitled, “14 May 1905” Below is the text.
“There is a place where time stands still. Raindrops hang motionless in air. Pendulums of clocks float mid-swing. Dogs raise their muzzles in silent howls. Pedestrians are frozen on the dusty streets. Their legs cocked as if held by strings. The aromas of dates, mangoes, coriander, cumin are suspended in space.
As a traveler approaches this place from any direction, he moves more and more slowly. His heartbeats grow father apart, his breathing slackens, his temperature drops, his thoughts diminish, until he reaches dead center and stops. For this is the center of time. From this place, time travels outward in concentric circles — at rest in the center, slowly picking up speed at greater diameters.
Who would make pilgrimage to the center of time? Parents with children, and lovers.
And so, at the place where time stands still, one sees parents clutching their children, in a frozen embrace that will never let go. The beautiful young daughter with blue eyes and blond hair will never stop smiling the smile she smiles now, will never lose this soft pink glow on her cheeks, will never grow wrinkled or tired, will never get injured, will never unlearn what her parents have taught her, will never think thoughts that her parents don’t know, will never know evil, will never tell her parents that she does not love them, will never leave her room with the view of the ocean, will never stop touching her parents as she does now.
And a the place where time stands still, one sees lovers kissing in the shadows of buildings, in a frozen embrace that will never let go. The loved one will never take his arms from where they are now, will never give back the bracelet of memories, will never journey far from his lover, will never place himself in danger in self-sacrifice, will never fail to show his love, will never become jealous, will never fall in love with someone else, will never lose the passion of this instant in time.
One must consider that these statues are illuminated by only the most feeble red light, for light is diminished almost to nothing at the center of time, its vibrations slowed to echos in vast canyons, its intensity reduced to the faint glow of fireflies. Those not quite at dead center do indeed move, but at the pace of glaciers. A brush of the hair might take a year, a kiss might take a thousand. While a smile is returned, seasons pass in the outer world. While a child is hugged, bridges rise. While a goodbye is said, cities crumble and are forgotten.
And those who return to the outer world… Children grow rapidly, forget the centuries-long embrace from their parents, live in their own houses, learn ways of their own, suffer pain, grow old. Children curse their parents for their own wrinkled skin and hoarse voices. These now old children also want to stop time, but at another time. They want to freeze their own children at the center of time.
Lovers who return find their friends are long gone. After all, lifetimes have passed. They move in a world they do not recognize. Lovers who return still embrace in the shadows of buildings, but now their embraces seem empty and alone. Soon they forget the centuries-long promises, which to them lasted only seconds. They become jealous even among strangers, say hateful things to each other, lose passion, drift apart, grow long and alone in a world they do not know.
Some say it is best not to go near the center of time. Life is a vessel of sadness, but it is noble to live life, and without time there is no life. Others disagree. They would rather have an eternity of contentment, even if that eternity were fixed and frozen, like a butterfly mounted in a case.”**
I can not count the number of times I’ve wished to live in one moment forever. To Stop. Time. To feel the joy, love, comfort or connection of one instant, forever.
Of course, that wish lasts only a split second before time continues barreling forward. But in that moment, when I wish that, when I think that thought, time seems to warp and a single second splits into a few, sometimes longer. Like I’m bending time with my thoughts and feelings. And in that moment, my mind remembers. It samples that instant and stores it. Thinking offhand now, I can recall at least 6 moments in the past year that have felt that way. Most often it is an embrace, a touch, a conversation that somehow pushes past all my joking and insecurities and burrows into my heart.
When I was sick so much as a child I remember my mom. The way she would wrap me up in the “sick blanket”, touch my face, and cuddle me back to sleep. Now when I’m in my apartment alone and sick, somehow I can smell her as I fall asleep.
The strong hard hug from Arthur in his parents’ driveway last Christmas when Nannie was so very sick and I was inconsolable. My mind remembers how tightly he held me as my body heaved with angry brokenhearted sobs. I will never forget that moment.
The cold February late night walk with Sarah through her dimly lit neighborhood. She held my hand and reminded me that there is a time and place for everything and that I must be selfless. Mere minutes later my father called me to come back to the hospital and Sarah drove me. That was the night my grandmother died.
There are countless other moments, both positive and negative, burned into my brain. The ability of my memory to do that will forever fascinate me.
Tonight, I edited the video of my brother’s birthday dinner. He’s turning 30 next week, but in my mind he’s not even close. My family was there and I, sitting next to my chatterbox niece (wonder where she gets that!), felt so unbelievably happy. Never have I loved such an overwhelming love than the love I have for my family and for Arthur. Never so much have I wished to live in the moment than I have in the last 8 months since my grandmother passed away.
So, finally opening this book and reading this particular journal entry is especially poignant tonight. Time works in funny ways.
**Excerpt from Alan Lightman’s, Einstein’s Dreams.