Monday, September 16, 2013

A Ticket to Ride

The imagination is one of mankind's most valuable assets. I take great delight in exercising mine, and truly enjoy playing games with myself. Today, I find myself playing The Great Philosopher and the Train of Time. My obsession with time and the speed of its passing is well known by anyone who has followed these blogs. The concept of time is a human construct, invented to keep the days and seasons apart. Pondering whether it really exists is not unlike the old conundrum of the tree falling in the forest--if no one is there to hear it fall, does it make any noise? A falling tree sends out sound waves, unquestionably, but for there to be noise requires ears to translate the sound waves into noise. Does time require someone's awareness of it in order to exist?

Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia: what do they matter if there is no one to be aware of them? What did they matter before we became aware of them?

Without question, time ceases for the individual with death. (Oh, and by the way, time passes away--people don't pass away, they die. People have a most annoying habit of using euphemisms for things they prefer not to face directly.) Time and trains have a lot in common--they are both immensely powerful and you can't stop either one by standing in front of it and waving your arms. The train of time is speeding down an endless track and we, as a species, hitched our little circus car to it a long way into its journey. The vast majority of individual members of our species get on and off with very little notice. We're each born with a ticket to ride without having any idea of how long or how far that ticket will take us. We are also born with no concept of time itself. We gradually become aware of it as we move from being an infant to being a toddler to being a child, and from the moment we first become aware of it, it increasingly influences and in many cases controls our lives.

I'm glad Mr. Einstein pointed out that time is relative, but I think almost anyone pretty much figures that out for themselves. The relativity of time is patently obvious to anyone who has sat for an hour in a waiting room with nothing to do but stare at the walls or, conversely, spent a sunny day with friends at an amusement park. In the former instance, time slows to a crawl. In the latter, it flashes by. For one so reluctant to see time pass, I've always found the fact of time's relativity to be an ultimate irony. Life is far too short under any conditions, and then the more we enjoy it, the faster it goes by. The ancient Babylonians believed that when one died, he/she sat on a chair in a long hallway without moving for eternity. Just sitting still with nothing to do for five minutes would be an eternity for me. But its relative speed is an illusion--time itself neither slows down or speeds up outside our own minds and some obscure laws of physics.

We only gradually begin first to suspect and then to realize that our ride is not free. For most of us, the conductor doesn't even come by to start collecting tickets until we're well into our journey. We recognize him only when he stops before us and hands us a very large mirror. We still may not know at what point we have to leave the train, but the conductor's mirror gives us an indication.

That we humans are able to accept so much without questioning or even thinking about it is, another of nature's wonders. Just as we would never, quite literally, be able to walk and chew gum at the same time if we had to consider each and every movement that goes into putting one foot in front of the other, or in moving the jaws up and down, spending too much time contemplating...well, time...the past, the present, and the future...would prevent us from going about the business of living from day to day. The mind can too easily boggle if it tries to contemplate too much too quickly in too much depth.

All we can do is to accept the fact that we are aboard the train now, with absolutely no guarantee of how much longer we might have, and that the best we can to be comfortable with what we have and what we may hope to obtain. And if, during our journey, we have acquired a degree of wisdom, we also must be aware of our fellow passengers, and realize that we have an obligation to remember not only them but those who rode the train before us, and those who will be getting on at the next station.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

What is this train is but one train we have to ride? As in what if there are so many that it's practically an amusement park we're really at and this is one of the attractions? Can you imagine doing this multiple times? Or living lives on multiple planets and time periods?

What if when the doors open and we exit this ride, we marvel at what we experienced, tell our friends about it an queue up for another?