Sunday, September 28, 2008

Time's Circles

In Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman imagines a bevy of dreams had by Albert Einstein during his tenure at a patent office in Switzerland in 1905. The novel presents a variety of vignettes of the human condition, all lingering in the arenas of the relative and unpredictable--essentially embodying the core idea of many of Einstein's theoretical contributions to physics and science. The idea of time is imagined in countless ways, unbound by the strictures of logic.

There was a particular passage in the book that spoke so closely of the relationship difficulties I have with my parents. They are determined to remember my brother and I as children, and are stodgy to accept us as adults who have grown different from them. 

"There is a place where time stands still....From this place, time travels outward in concentric circles--at rest at the center, slowly picking up speed at greater diameters....And so, at the place where time stands still, one sees parents clutching their children, in a frozen embrace that will never let go. The beautiful daughter... will never grow wrinkled and tired, will never get injured, will never unlearn what her parents have taught her, will never think thoughts that her parents don't know... will never stop touching her parents as she does now.
. . . .
And those who return to the outer world... Children grow rapidly, forget the centuries-long embrace from their parents, which to them lasted but seconds. Children become adults, live far from their parents, live in their own houses, learn ways of their own, suffer pain, grow old. Children curse their parents for trying to hold them forever, curse time for their own wrinkled skin and hoarse voices. These now old children also want to stop time, but at another time. They want to freeze their own children at the center of time.
. . . .
Some say it is best not to go near the center of time. Life is a vessel of sadness, but it is noble to live life, and without time there is no life. Others disagree. They would rather have an eternity of contentment, even if that eternity were fixed and frozen, like a butterfly mounted in a case."

This is but one of Lightman's theoretical meanderings on time's impermanence. It is hard for my parents and I to accept our differences when one camp mostly embraces the past, and the other camp gravitates toward the future. Both camps are right though.  To truly grow, we must change. To know the best way to change, we must know our history. Slowly we are on our way to the common ground that lies between the center and the far perimeter.

1 comment:

Dre said...

Aaron- thanks for sharing your connection to that particular theory. It makes me realize that time is not really what this theory, or any of the others, are truly about. It's about experience and alternative coexisting perspectives. Through the metaphor of time we are asked to consider the lives lived by others, the view from behind their eyes. There are certainly lessons to learn from each of these parables.