The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.
All jokes aside, there is something about time that makes us uncomfortable. Time is a runaway train. We can’t stop it, slow it, or change its direction. We’re either like Alice’s White Rabbit, chasing the tick-tocks, stressing over some future deadline, or, we’re like the jilted Mrs. Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations, lamenting sad pasts.
Either way, like the Mad Hatter, we risk the time of present living, wasting ourselves in droll routine, drinking our daily tea but not knowing why. We forget where we came from, and we surrender where we’re going. We murder Time.
Time is a paradox. It is methodically measured in invariable degrees, but it mutates all it touches. It touches everything.
Time moves winter into spring. Time stirs grief into joy. Time shifts physical forms. Time motioned calm seas.Time induces heavy clouds so that God’s tears rain down upon both dry fields and dry souls. Time connects space, earth, and all of mankind.
The arrow of time, having shot through the past, punctures the present, and pierces the future. Past, present, and future share the same skewer. The linear, forward-moving line integrates uncommon cultures and common experiences.
As an English teacher, I would occasionally be asked why we should read books like The Diary of a Young Girl or To Kill a Mockingbird. Sometimes parents would say, “Those are such old, sad stories. Aren’t there any more positive, upbeat books the kids could read instead?”
Of course, we could erase all the sad stories, but then we’d become disconnected like Mad Hatter or the March Hare. Living trapped in the present would be the death of progress.
Ghandi once said, “If we are to make progress, we must not repeat history but make new history. We must add to inheritance left by our ancestors.” If we embrace the past and use it to shape the future, then, we need not fear sad histories. We connect to them. We learn from them. We add to our inheritance.
We don’t have to look far to see the arrow of time. One only need look at her child’s face to see her present self’s imprint upon the future, her future hope. One only need look up at the stars sprinkled across the night sky to see her past. The universe has written her history there. We can look up, uncover who we were, discover who we are, and dream who we may become.
We introduce ourselves to free will, and we learn to apply knowledge from past experience to future outcomes.
Yes, we can ignore the sad stories. The result, though, is that we’d never know our own power. We’d toggle between fate and free will as if balancing ourselves on a tightrope, worried about falling to either side, not realizing there was no gravity, that all we ever needed was to leap and fly.
“We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses–one foot is on the horse called “fate,” the other on the horse called “free will.” And the question you have to ask every day is–which horse is which? Which horse do I need to stop worrying about because it’s not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort?”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love