Time and Me

“Alice Through the Looking Glass”
Illustration by John Tenniel from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

Time and Me

 When I was a little girl, I didn’t worry about Time at all.  I pretended I was a deer and roved the forests.  I pretended I was a boy raised by wolves and roamed the jungle.  Back then, it wasn’t called trans-genderism or trans-speciesism.  It was the reality of my childhood.  I didn’t raise philosophical questions like, “What’s the difference between the real and the imaginary?”

Sometimes, as when you climb up some tree and can’t get down, or say the wrong thing unwittingly, grownups would point out the difference.  Otherwise, provided you kept within the imaginary boundaries, the difference gave no trouble.

Until one day, you found yourself unable to believe the unbelievable.  You had lost the talent.  Grandpa died, who was (at least in my mind) the king of the Jews.  Mother was away a lot, clearing her parents’ apartment.  Something unpleasantly called adolescence stood at the door.  Anyway, for whatever reason, my imaginary worlds vanished.

Where those worlds had been, a great dark vacancy loomed instead.   And into that emptiness came Time.  As a problem.  It felt to me like

a torrential wind that

carried everything before it.

Suddenly reality, which till then had not been a problem, became an insoluble one.  Take any scene in which I found myself, scene filled with people – so palpable, so multi-textured and many-colored – and let the company depart.  What had happened to that scene?  Where did all that real-life go?  It had become mere memory-traces — almost nothing at all!

It was here.  And then it was not-here.  It was now.  After which it was then.  There was no holding it back or pinning it down.  Everything was either gone — or about to be gone!

How did I get cured?  Time was superficially “cured,” if that’s the right word, by other scenes, non-imaginary, that began to populate my days.

Like for example adolescence, which for me meant being a wallflower.  Or, if a youth finally asked me to dance, well… boys were no longer fun.  They’d become self-conscious and sweaty and were often trying to take some kind of advantage.  Relations with boys were now asymmetrical, out of joint.

My mother hadn’t taught me how to flirt in America because she knew nothing about it.  She knew about coquetterie, in Europe, what the dictionnaire de francais Larousse calls le desire de plaire aux autres: the desire to please others.  It was not the same as being kind or nice.  And it was not second nature.  It was something you learned.  Renee, her French woman friend, gave interesting hints about what it was.  But in America, all that was useless.

What finally tamed Time for me were the intentions that, gradually, by trial and error, I came to recognize as my own.  If you have learned the purposes that belong to your life, Time is the medium in which you can work them out.

It takes Time to realize your purposes.  Without Time, the lessons you need to learn, and the work-in-the-world you need to do, remain unreal — merely hypothetical.

There’s another question that looms the more one gets some idea of who one is and what one is to do here.  That question is,

will I get it all done?

I’ve read somewhere that Michelangelo’s last words were, to his young assistant,

I am dying, Giulio,

and my work

is still unfinished.

From Michelangelo, it sounds like a joke, almost.  Had he shaped one more masterpiece in stone, the world would have staggered under the added burden of appreciation therewith bestowed on us.

One thing his case makes clear however: we don’t know when our work is done, or which thing we did counts most importantly as “our work.”

The other day, I had an insight about Time that was new to me.  It’s hard to explain.  It was more like an image than a string of words.  The words by which I can share it go something like this:

Time is the medium for my thinking and doing, sensing and saying, in the world.

And it’s filled, right now.

All that I was and am and will be

are in it with sufficiency

right now. 

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to Time and Me

  1. Jerry Schmoyer says:

    What a marvelous creation of God is time. If there were no time we’d all here with nothing to separate us: Michelangelo would be painting and carving, but some of his buildings wouldn’t even be built yet. You, as an adult, would exist right alongside that little girl you were, and the adolescent will be alive at teh same time as well. Native Americans would be living here while the Revelutionary War was still going on – and so would be WW I and WW II. What chaos it would be if there weren’t time to separate everything and keep in in order! What a magnificent idea of God. In eternity there will be no time, so there can be no end of it. Everything will exist without need of improvement for it will be perfection. Since there is no time, it will never run out but just go on and on. Great things to think about!

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