Krevchinsky froze his ass off on the Siberian plain. The gray concrete box was traded for concrete gray skies, the whistle of the truncheon gives way to winter’s blasts. It was in many ways easier when the beatings came neatly marking the days dividing days between pain and exhaustion, all under the watchful eye of the meek incandescent sun dangling from the ceiling. In the camp day and night are reflections of an unseen clock, seasons slide from discontent to depression. The prison of the body is finite built block on block, the prison of the soul is vast, empty, dissipating life.
First appeared in HazMat Review, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1996) and later in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006).
I never expected this, he said. It came from out of nowhere. None of us predicted it. It’s a sort of thing that happens elsewhere, but not here, at least that was our assumption. We certainly never wanted it to come to this. But come it did, and so we accepted it. We learned to like the placidity of its face. We were lost for a while but our lives returned to their normal pace, the rhythms of the day overwhelmed us, and our lives went on. We never bothered to fashion a new year. We were satisfied with perfection twice each day.
He notes with alacrity that modern man has stripped all logic from time, rendering it an arbitrary temporal system based on mechanics, and even that is quadrennially imperfect. Once it was seasons, which came and went in orderly fashion, but heating was never a science then. Later it was the moon a reusable calendar and what was an odd month here or there if the crops were in the ground. Now it is sweeping hands that carry off the dust which is all that remains of our once logic.
She said, “the saddest thing of all is time. We spend so much of it trying to insure we know exactly what time it is, that it gets away from us and is gone long before we get around to using it.” He said, “but it’s important to know what time it is, in case something happens, for how else can we tell others what happened and when?” She laughed, “then exactly what time is it now,” and as he looked closely at his watch, she disappeared.
In a clockless world all life is an approximation and clear boundaries evaporate like the mist off a morning pond. In that world this moment seeps into the next, night becomes day, only to return again. The Buddha knew this for in his clockless world all that existed was this moment an instant that was, as well, eternity.
She is fond of saying that time is on our side although we both know that time does not take sides, is incapable of action, is passive in passage. It is something of which we may never have enough but we are certain no one has more than we in this moment. She cannot imagine running out of time, I know that I will, but won’t know when it finally happens.
The sweep of the second-hand, the minute hand is constant, each moment as long as the last, none longer, none shorter and yet I know that Einstein was right in noting that things unpleasant take forever, while all that is joyful passes quickly even when the elapsed time is the same. What Albert didn’t say is that the unpleasant leads us to look for the future, keeping us locked longer in the present moment. That which is pleasant keeps us present and the future seems to come too quickly, the pleasure slipping away. It is, in the end, merely perception and I prefer to remain in the present for it is all that I have, and all that I choose to make it.