Monday, August 26, 2013

And time and memory dance

I hope Einstein is right. And Billy Pilgrim. And Frederick Buechner. Right with regards to time, that it's relative and panoramic and bendable.

Billy Pilgrim (as recorded by Kurt Vonnegut in "Slaughterhouse-Five") clues us in on the Tralfamadorian view of time, where they "can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance... It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever."

Children have a more useful concept of time. Our girls have said "Yesterday" or "last year" to describe the same memory at different times when they were younger. Buechner nails it by explaining, "It is by its content rather than its duration that a child knows time, by its quality rather than its quantity."

This might hold still for adults: I have memories from when I was three years old--my parents bailing out a sailboat they had after a storm, or the inside of my nursery school classroom--that are more vivid and clear than things that happened last week. Our memory alters time.

Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still. - Buechner, "The Sacred Journey"

Neither time, nor our memories are fixed. It's more like they're dancing. Yesterday, our eight-year-old daughter Ava and I set out on our bikes to a cemetery a couple miles up the road, where I recently learned my great grandparents were buried. All the Valliant relatives I've known were buried in the Oxford Cemetery. This great grandfather, Jeremiah, died in 1919, decades before my dad was born.

Ava and I had to explore the cemetery to find the grave, an ancestral scavenger hunt in play. We both lit up when we found it, not far from where we parked our bikes, though we'd walked the long way round and come back to it.

"It was cool to meet my great great grandfather today," Ava told me later in the evening.

"Meet." I didn't correct her. It was the perfect word. Time and death are grown-up ideas, not useful or relevant to an eight year old.

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