©2014 by Jack A. Urquhart 786 words
Lately, I have been thinking about the passage of time and how quickly our individual allotments pile up—and how meaningfully. Or not.
There is nothing new in this, of course. We humans have been obsessed with life’s transience since we first learned to count, bedeviled by the meaning and miracle of our existence ever since the first synaptic impulse to contemplate our navels.
Perhaps the difference today is that technology has exacerbated our metacognitive tendencies, accelerated the frequency and rate of our obsessions. For who, in this age of electronic gadgetry and Internet omnipresence, would deny that we have more ways than ever to track the passage of our lives, more information (far more than we might sometimes wish) to fuel our expeditions in Omphaloskepsis—to draw upon in contemplating the significance of being alive.
By way of personal example, I cite the compulsive introspection that this morning sent me surfing across several online “days of your life” calculation sites (here’s one of them) that can, in the blink of an eye, compute the length of time one has been out and alive in the world.
Here is what I learned—that, as of September 18, 2014, my life tally amounts to:
887 lunar months
464 dog years
68.11 lunar years
These calculations exclude the normal nine months of human gestation. That means that if I subscribed to all the tenets of the various “Personhood Initiatives,” (I do not), I could add another 270 +/- days in hours, minutes, seconds, etc., to the various above-noted reckonings.
But it wasn’t the computational specifics—not any desire to know the exact number of days, hours, minutes, etc.—that prompted my Internet investigations. Rather, it was because I couldn’t help wondering how many moments—out of the nearly 2.1 billion seconds (it turns out) of my life to date—had retained a consequential place in memory? How many of them had carried the bulk and resonance of meaning? I couldn’t help wondering what that tally might say about the huge swaths of my life that have vanished into a black hole of lost time and recollection—and more to the point, what might such a tally imply about the relative meaning of my life?
Daunting questions, I’ll grant, and not ones likely to yield reliable answers. Nevertheless, this die-hard (hopeful pun intended) navel gazer decided to pursue an unscientific experiment in that direction.
To wit, I set about recollecting and denoting (via the scientific method of check marks on tablet paper) as many significant life events as thirty minutes and a faulty memory would allow. By ‘significant’, I intended a moment in time important enough to spring, specifics intact, readily to mind. For example, a first love, lost love, last love. Or more precisely, my spouse’s surprise marriage proposal after 14 years of togetherness (Friday, September 28, 2012), the first time I heard “Rhapsody in Blue” (June 1958, 4th Grade, end of school year concert), weeping over the last page of To Kill a Mockingbird (November 9, 1962), my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon (July, 1970).
The wondrous births of my children.
My son’s death; my mother’s sudden passing.
You get the idea.
So how many checks were on my list at the end of that half hour, how many ‘significant’ memories readily summoned?
Big drumroll: 118.
What might that signify, I found myself wondering post clumsily executed experiment? What if anything could be gleaned from a mere 118 recollected moments out of hundreds of millions?
That would be the gazillion dollar question, wouldn’t it? The one, that given the paltriness of my checklist, I wasn’t sure I wanted to waste anymore time considering. And yet, and yet…there was—no, there is—something that stands out for me in contemplating the significance of those 118 memories. And that is that every last one of them centers on a moment so beautiful, so joyous, frightening, heart wrenching—so mind boggling and compelling—as to have stopped time.
As to have overcome caterwauling distraction.
As to have revealed a God Particle of insight and intuition, an excitement of understanding that imparts mass and weightiness to everything else, a reaction that once begun cannot be turned off.
As when we apprehend (the first time, and ever thereafter) what a curse, and a blessing, and a never-ending mystery is love, is loss.
Is a sudden spring snow; is a Chopin Berceuse.
Is being alive.
Who knows, perhaps that is as much meaning, as much understanding—as much of any God—as some of us can hope to tally in 24,137 days.
I was interested to find that your own writing accomplishments didn’t figure in the list of memorable moments. Personally, I can’t think of any moments in my life that were “beaufitul, mind-boggling, and compelling,” which I find rather strange. On the whole, I have not been pleased with the way my life turned out. Now, my writing – that’s the only thing I think is worth getting excited about. I think you’re probably the lucky one to have so many stirring memories, even if some of them are painful.
Thank you for stopping by, Lorinda. You and Ray are my main readers here. 🙂 Have to tell you, I was taken by the honesty of your remarks here. Probably very few of us are altogether pleased with the way our lives have turned out. Which makes having a passion for one’s work all the more important. I’m glad you have that, which is no small thing. If memory serves, I believe there’s a long history of artists whose main point of focus and excitement has been their creative work. Perhaps that’s what it takes to be successful? Eventually? As for your claim about the lack of beautiful, mind-boggling moments, what about that Rocky Mountain view that’s right at your door step? Surely the mountains must’ve given you more than a few thrilling moments? How I miss them, those wonderful peaks. Nothing like them here in Florida–but there I go being dissatisfied again. Yikes. Thanks again for your comments. — Jack
Beautifully written, but all that figurin’ hurts my head. I think you need to get a dog. And, by the way, if you were a dog, you’d be dead by now. (Just for perspective.)
Personally, I don’t like to spend a lot of time counting or looking back. I prefer to let those mind-boggling, beautiful moments reside in memory until summoned, usually by some similar new moment of compelling, comparable beauty.
You can recall precisely when you first heard “Rhapsody in Blue” or read the last page of To Kill a Mockingbird? I am impressed. I love both those works, but I couldn’t even begin to remember when I first experienced them, other than that I was a teenager.
Seriously. Get a dog.
Re memory and “Rhapsody in Blue”: Not precisely when I heard it first, but thanks to the old report cards my Mom saved (and the ragged permission slip enclosed therein) that it was sometime in June of ’58. (The lady saved everything!)
As for To Kill a Mockingbird, that was easier. I always wrote the completion date of my favorite novels on the last page, so t’was a quick lookup.
Also, fyi: I count a lot in the present tense, as when I’m washing the dishes, waiting for the traffic light to change, watering the garden, folding laundry, tallying up purchases at the local mall. An obsession of some sort, I’ll grant, but a cheap one. Were I to acquire a dog (and I love dogs), I’d probably waste time counting how long it took me to toilet train the sweet thing, or complete its morning walk, or the running total of its veterinarian bills.
Nope, I’m thinking no poochies for me at present. T’would be like throwing gas on a fire in order to extinguish it. Seriously.
I thought of one thing I remember vividly from when I was five – my mother and I walked out the front door and down the sidewalk, and the neighbor called out to tell us that Pres. Roosevelt had just died. This was brought back to me by the PBS series. I also remember when Pres. Kennedy was killed (I was working, and when I went home for lunch, I didn’t go back to work that afternoon). And of course, the moon landing, and watching the Watergate Hearings (I was between jobs at the time, so I could watch all day)..
Also, I agree about the dog. For one thing, if you want to take extended vacations, it’s pricey to have to hire a dog sitter or put them in a kennel, and not so great for the dog either.
I love you (and your odd obsessions). Seriously.
p.s. I didn’t know you counted all those things.
p.p.s. I’m trying to convince Bob to let me have a dog.
I hope Bob comes around. You’d be great with a dog as you’ve the prerequisites for the commitment: patience, dedication, out-of-the-box problem-solving skills, a giving, loving nature, etc. As it happens, our next door neighbor just acquired the tiniest poodle I’ve ever seen–barely a handful; she said the choice was motivated by the fact that she could more easily take a little dog on her various and frequent travels by air. Would you be taking Fido/Fidette on your yearly trip to the U.K.? xox