Friday, March 27, 2009

Time Flying While Standing Still - The Longer Now

I can rarely say I am embarrassed about anything I ever read. From bodice-ripping romance novels to Mad magazine, from lurid real life crime stories to pretty raunchy erotica, I am an equal opportunity reader. And if I read it, I am usually willing to talk about it.

There have been two books I have read in the last 20 years that I tend to not own up to.

The first was
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. The second was The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. My embarrassment regarding both of them stems from very different reasons. I thought the story of American Psycho was beyond disturbing and offensive. And it takes a whole lot to disturb or offend me. However, the book was so well crafted and I was already a fan of Mr. Ellis, so as much as I was disgusted by the words spilling off of the pages, he hooked me. I finished it, threw away the paperback and avoided discussing it until now. (In an effort to partially redeem myself, I did not go to the movie and have intensely disliked Christian Bale ever since the film came out.)

On the other hand, I thought The Celestine Prophecy was one of the most poorly written books I have ever struggled through. But I was going through my brief “new-agey” phase at the time and the pull of the plot was stronger than my resistance to Mr. Redfield’s weak story telling. In the intervening years, my interest in the topics discussed in the book largely deserted me. Except for one phrase that has stuck with me since the first time I read them on a page.

The Longer Now …

If I think back, I have a vague memory of what Mr. Redfield meant when he used the phrase. And I have seen it used several times since then. I believe that my personal interpretation of the phrase is based on the description provided in the book. But as the words rolled themselves around in my brain for almost 20 years, I think my concept veered from what he intended.

When I envision the longer now I see it as a call to expand our view of history and our place in it. I see our place in the world as existing before we were here and continuing after we are gone. The old Chinese proverb about a silken red thread that ties people together comes closest to describing my view.

I am not attempting philosophical, theological or metaphysical discourse here. I leave that to the experts. Nor am I channeling my new-age persona of twenty years ago. She is long dead. I am talking about fact.

Several people lived 400 years ago (or 800 or 200) that made decisions or took actions that resulted in me being here today. They decided to migrate to the new world or they didn’t. They decided to marry and have children rather than enter the priesthood. They decided to marry one boy from their village versus another. They gave up their agrarian existence and learned a trade. And those actions, just like the millions of actions that occurred before and the millions that have occurred since make it possible for me to sit here today with my specific DNA.

At that same time several people or groups of people made decisions or took a course of action that had a direct impact on the world I live in today. Wars were fought, ships were launched, trade was created, empires were built, science advanced. The world I exist in, move through and experience my life within could have been dramatically different if a single battle was not won, if a ship was lost at sea, if an empire was not launched.

Of course this applies to the generations and the world order that will continue after my death. Who I married, the choice to have children, the work I do, the decisions I’ve made and causes I’ve supported will all have an impact on those coming after me, no matter how mundane or trivial they seem to me now.

This is, to me, the true measure of immortality.

Considering time from this perspective - that “now” is not just this minute, just this day, just this year, but a steady progression of lives and events occurring before, during and after the few moments of my lifetime and are all essential to my very existence, gives me a broadened sense of immediacy … the longer now.

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