Thursday, June 9, 2011

Reading a difficult book

At last an explanation for why time seems to drag for children and rush for we seniors. I am reading In Motion by Tony Hiss ... slowly because his pace is slow. I'm not quite sure what he's trying to explain, but now and then he tells me things I didn't know or gives me a new way to think about some big questions. One is time.

Paul Janet, a French philosopher was apparently the first person to write down this idea about time [in 1877]: we measure passing years against the stockpile of our own birthdays. For a ten year old a year is a great accomplishment, a whole 1/10th of his life. But at age 50 a year is only 2% of our stockpile of years. Thus, throughout our years we apply a yardstick that keeps changing and becomes meaningless. At 70 a year is such a small thing, and the next year will be smaller. ... Certainly it feels that way to me. I have found myself thinking, say on a Sunday evening, "Good heavens, another week is past." It seems the merest instant. Winter and spring have come and gone this year and now summer begins. I intend to enjoying it as much as I can, but I leap ahead in my imagination and know it will whiz away. The only "defense" [which isn't exactly what I mean] against the feeling of loss that suggests is the very awareness of its fast fleetingness.

That brings me to another bit Hiss writes about the knowledge we all have, but which many choose to suppress fiercely, that we have only a limited lifespan. He tells of Uwais el-Qarni, a Yemeni thinker living approximately at the time of Mohammad. When asked how he felt he said he felt like a man who wakes up in the morning and doesn't know if he will be alive in the evening. His questioner remarked, "but that is true for all people," Uwais answered, "Yes, but how many of them feel it?" This was quoted not to say that feeling it is good or bad, but that some of us have a stronger awareness than others and therefore live as if we are tuned to a different pitch. Obviously this is not a new thought. I often think those of us who have that awareness are the poets and musicians and artists of the world. That is only a feeling, I won't claim it's a fact. But I think we more often stop to smell the roses and look at the stars -- and another fact Hiss writes is that 80% of the people now living in the world [in highly populated centers] actually cannot see the Milky Way at night because the sky is polluted with both gases and with light.

I think having come across these bits of information and insight before reaching the actual middle of a book that is often difficult and sometimes boring makes a very good case for reading difficult and boring books.

2 comments:

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

June -- I try to slow down time by not overloading my schedule. However, for some reason, time still races along.

Too bad your book is boring. Perhaps you could select another and enjoy your time spent reading.

-- barbara

June Calender said...
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