I emptied out a dresser today. Most times, dressers are filled with clothes, but mine was filled with memories. The school, drill team, and sports pictures were enough to make me cry. It was the handmade Mother’s Day cards and artwork that had me sobbing.
I ask all of you, how is it possible that all of this life passes by us in a few short years? I know you don’t have the answer, just like me. The ultrasound picture of my youngest child growing inside of me alongside the framed print of my daughter’s ultrasound carrying my grandchild doesn’t make sense to me at this moment. For, Time does not appear linear in this moment. Einstein once wrote, “For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Julian Barbour, a British physicist, describes time as “a succession of pictures, a succession of snapshots, changing continuously one into another. I’m looking at you; you’re nodding your head. Without that change, we wouldn’t have any notion of time.”
So time continues to be an illusion for those of us who resist the belief in linear time and reject the idea that time is understood past the moment of now. Our brains struggle to categorize moments in static configurations, to support time being linear, yet it only illustrates linear time as it flows from the changes it senses.
Barbour goes on to outline “Nows” as the true explanation of time, ”We have the strong impression that things have definite positions relative to each other. I aim to abstract away everything we cannot see (directly or indirectly) and simply keep this idea of many different things coexisting at once. There are simply the Nows, nothing more, nothing less.”
I absolutely love how he outlines these nows as taking place simultaneously, outside of linear time, the very moments when you experience a memory alongside today and feel the coexistence. This simultaneous existence describes my emotional state. Time cannot have possibly passed, only by feeling the time that is now, unsure of any other moment beyond. It is the present I feel. To explain this by such a powerful intersection makes complete sense to me.
This explanation is deep, I know. My father’s words written in a birthday card to my son when he was only three, as we awaited the arrival of his little brother awakened my memory of his continuous deep examination of time, questioning whether relative or illusory. And I sense him here with me “Now” although he’s left us years ago.
To me today, I feel as Barbour did, when he stated: ”If you try to get your hands on time, it’s always slipping through your fingers.”
And if that’s true, I understand why I’m unable to grasp this moment in time because it was once there, I feel it now, and as the succession of pictures attempts to move me to accept the change, equal to the notion of time, I choose to hold tightly onto an illusion.
-Erika K Rothwell