Filling Time

Time is a strange concept. We hold on to the past and the future as though they are real, places we can go, rather than illusions of our mind. I gave up on time being real a long time ago, but I still trust my memory. The present moment is all that really exists, but I still plan and dream of the future.

I wonder how much of it is lies that allow my life to continue, but then even the idea of it continuing is a lie. And then, without time we could never learn a skill, never advance, and never lose anything. There has always been a sadness inside me of how much has been lost over the span of human existence, and a joy at finding ancient mysteries.

I have traveled through cities that have died and been restored more than once in Mexico. There is a beauty about the ancient ruins. Not a beauty you would want to live in, but the kind of beauty that can only exist with loss. Maybe it’s just a holdover from all the books I’ve read, where the ancient mysteries and wisdom are so much greater than what we have now.

I played dungeons and dragons for decades, and I have explored more imaginary ruins than I remember. In the real world, you can feel the time, but the mystery is not the same. It’s not life and death, and there is no monster waiting at the end of the corridor, but there is a real loss there. Lives that people hated living are wondrous and mysterious a thousand years later.

I like to imagine time travel, going to see things that have been forgotten, but I think the reality will be more like the Twilight Zone than anything. I always thought it would be fun to show the Terminator to an audience in the 1920s, terrifying them with what we see as a classic. I imagined learning from great masters, meeting great people, and seeing historic moments.

I imagine time ripping people to pieces physically or mentally because of what they change. That time does not simply change or cease to be, but that it moves like a river, flooding, damming, changing course slowly and the old timeline becoming a desert wasteland. Time is a precious thing, mostly because we don’t really understand it.

This world is not what it seems, any more than we are. In the West, time is a line trudging from beginning to end. In the East, it’s a cycle, never beginning or ending. Time really is the only thing there will never be more of. Every moment matters as much as any other, but we live in the lie that some moments are special because of our limited perspective. With every funeral comes someone who is having the best day of their life.

In Mandarin, time is spoken of opposite of how I would expect. To me, time begins at 0 and moves toward 24, the full hours of a day. I wake at 8, eat at 10, work at 12, or whatever the day may call for. There is morning, afternoon, and night. But in Mandarin, the way it is spoken of feels like you begin with a full day and it slowly dwindles away. Before noon is shang or above noon. After noon is xia, or below.

I wonder if that affects people’s perspective of time, or if it’s an old way of dealing with time. Does time fill the day or empty it?

There is no end to the questions I didn’t even think to ask before I began travelling. I like to imagine myself as a Don Quixote, on a quest for justice, kindness, glory, and wonder, but I think I’m as much a Sancho Panza as anything. I once met a girl who was looking for a knight in shining armor, but I could only think that that would never be me. Shining armor has never really been tested, and I prefer a certain practical madness in my life.


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