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Marvels: Letters from an Elder, Part 4

Continuing with excerpts from an upcoming book:

Letter #3, April 5th 1948

Dear Son,

Time? Yes, the big conundrum, one of the hardest things to grasp — and yet, once grasped, so simple as to be inexplicable.

Death brings wisdom on many fronts. Shedding the physical body opens up new dimensions of knowledge, and the being realises that he has been limited and hampered by being in the physical world. But the ‘physical world’ encompasses much more than the images we perhaps first think of when those words come to mind. We tend to think of objects, space and mass; we more often than not leave out the mysterious dimension known as Time.

An analogy may again rescue us here: Time, when it is considered at all, is usually thought of as a line or string, upon which events are threaded, one after the other, in linear fashion. Events which appear ‘earlier’ on the string are naturally, our human perspectives assume, responsible for those which appear ‘later’: if we drop a book upon a table, the letting go of the book obviously precedes its falling to the table; the thump of the book onto the tabletop is the last in an apparent sequence of miniature events. To express this seems to be stating the obvious.

But consider instead a motion picture film. It is made up of frames, each one in itself a still image; each frame is placed so as to create, when played through a projector, the illusion of motion, of Time. If we had filmed the dropping of our book, we would have a collection of still pictures, which, played in a particular sequence, would present the scene of a book being released and falling to a tabletop. But each frame could also be considered as an item in itself: the holding of the book, the moment of its release, its falling, and its impact. A film editor, removed from the mechanics of the scene, has the leisure to consider each frame as itself, and in any order he chooses; he may, in fact, reverse the frames so as to give the illusion of a book floating upwards into someone’s hand, or scramble the images to create a chaotic effect. Or he may just ponder each image as itself, motionless and timeless.

Had he several such strips of film spread out around him, he might take his time ruminating over them all, and perhaps splice some together or separate some images out from them. He might choose to linger over some films, watching them again and again; he might select certain bits to edit out and discard. In short, he would have time of a different sort at his disposal: not caught up in the playing of any of the scenes, he would be free to consider them from different angles, on his own schedule.

This is not a perfect analogy, but it is close: you, the being, freed by departure from the body from the linear flow of what you call Time, have the leisure of the film editor to review and consider what you have recorded. In addition to a visual record, though, your film has all the senses and more: every emotional nuance, every auditory whisper, every scent, every touch, all captured to be experienced time and time again if so desired.

It might perhaps be useful to consider Time as not just the linear ‘flow’ that we imagine from an earthly perspective, but as a variety of experiences. We begin at the point of total effect, caught up blindly and powerlessly in a stream of events which rush onward to who knows where; but there are states of mind outside that remorseless flow, altered slightly by the types of things in which we are engaged: ‘Time flies when you’re enjoying yourself’ is a truism which tries to express one of them, but it is also noticeable that Time seems subjectively different when one has a day in which one has accomplished a variety of different actions, as though the day has stretched to allow such accomplishments. Time often also noticeably slows when one is involved in something tedious and unwanted, like waiting for a bus or enduring a boring lesson. Rarer and more extreme, though, at mortal level, would be a condition in which Time appeared to slow or speed up at our conscious bidding; and at the other end of the spectrum from the ‘stream’ of Time would be the ‘pool’ of Time where all is still, in which in some unfathomable way the individual might be able to ponder the waters and perhaps muse upon his reflection for as long as he wishes. Such ‘timelessness’ — by which we mean the experience of Time without the ‘flow’ aspect — is referred to poetically as Eternity. The mortal mind, caught up in the casing of a physical body which is very much subject to Time’s flow, like a canoe rushing over rapids, finds this hard to grasp — the ‘flow’ of Time is such a fundamental feature of human life that it is difficult to envisage a condition in which it is variable or non-existent.

Sometimes a person can have a dream, though, which seems to last for hours but which, according to the ticking clock upon waking, has only lasted a minute or two. Time, categorised by us as an external experience when we are mortal, slips out of its objective clothing after the departure of the body, and becomes more elusive, subjective, adaptable. One might spend an age in Heaven, but return to Earth only a moment later; one might spend a lifetime upon Earth, only to find oneself returning to Heaven in the same breath.


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