—a favorite human fantasy ...


It has been suggested that we all have something to say, and we spend our entire lives saying it, repeatedly, and in a multitude of ways.

We might notice it, for example, when we read more than one book by the same author. No matter the different titles their works may bear, or story lines or themes they may have to offer us, we can yet pick up the scent, as it were, of the same person.

My personal theme song (at least one of them) just happens to be Time. I carped on it in my first two books, The One Thing, and Tao, An Enduring Ancient Wisdom.

What I enjoy prattling about so much is really quite simple: time does not actually exist, at least in any way that we may regard as substantive. It is merely a word.

Although ... I am not so sure that I should say, merely a word. In all honesty, there is really nothing mere about the word "time" and all its relatives, what I like to call time words. Our language seems to be filled with them, and we use them on a daily basis. They are all so simple, as in before, and after, and when. (Can one even begin to imagine a viable language without such words?)

But the mere existence of a word does not necessarily mean that the object it refers to is real.

Words often act as pointers.

And we sometimes get confused with the word and the thing itself, and need to be reminded that the word is not the thing it is pointing to. The words on the menu are not the actual food. The word steak is not the thing we eat. The word east on a road sign is not the direction itself. This is so evident that it may seem silly to even mention it.

It is not so silly though when we apply it to abstractions, things we cannot see, or sense in any way.

The word time for example is pointing to something, but what? What exactly is it directed at? Have we ever seen time? The question is absurd, yet, at the same time, compelling.

As with so many other things in life (religion for example), time is one of those things that we inherit from the society we happen to be living in. Most of us simply take possession of that which was given to us and hold on to it. Some of us, though (the weird ones), do not so quickly embrace that which was handed down to us.

I happen to be one of the latter. I have not held on to that which was bequeathed to me. From one point of view, it casts me not only in the guise of weird, but downright ungrateful. But that which has been given to me, such as religion and time, is nothing tangible, so much as mere ideas, abstractions, things we can never know about for sure, playthings of a sort that we are required to simply believe in, one way or the other.

And the act of believing can easily assume the form of sheer burden.

Personally, I do not want to believe, unless it might be in really cool stuff, certain kinds of fantasies, for example, that I might live forever and become fabulously wealthy and other fantasies that require no mention. Other than that, I choose to dispense with beliefs. I find them quite tedious. (I would much prefer the cold hard cash.)

I use time. I use it as I might use the lines on the map, lines that, after the fashion of time, do not really exist, but are nonetheless very useful for getting around, what we might call, maneuvering.

The downside of not believing in time inevitably compels us to reject the idea of time travel, which happens to be one of my favorite science fiction genres. The ability to travel in time has to be one of the coolest things imaginable. But (I am very sorry to concede) it is not really possible.

All traveling is through a medium, whether water, or air, or empty space. In order to be able to travel through time, it would have to exist as such a medium. I am not aware that anyone has ever demonstrated any solid support for this notion.

Once we sort it and sift it, reduce it to its finest essence, we find ourselves irresistibly driven to the conclusion that time is only a word that we use to describe a feeling, one that most often appears in the process of waiting for something, such as waiting in line to be seated at a restaurant, or to become an adult so that we may drink or smoke or simply for the next paycheck to waste on whatever.

In the absence of occupation the dark clouds of time hang over us, but immersed in activity it assumes the aspect of a fabled ghost whose existence we can never admit but whose legacy we can never decline.

June 13, 2005