Apt timing I suppose, that I had chosen this week to return to my research into man's interpretation of time. I've brought along the idea a few times here that we currently live in a culture where time is equal and synonymous with progress. The belief that the next thing will be better, and the next better still, until eventually we reach a state of utopia. I've given this subject a lot of thought lately, because here and there I continue plodding along on my novel. To write an accurate description of what I think the distant future of Earth will be like I have to familiarize myself with what past inhabitants have thought about such subjects. I can't simply assume in the future that they will share ours. If I want to put myself into the minds of my characters I need to perceive how they will think.
Basically I've chosen 3 distinct beliefs of the passage of time. The first, popular during the ascendancy of the Roman Empire is similar to ours. That is the belief in upward linear progression. The second is the polar opposite and it has served its followers similarly during the Dark Ages and times when the reality of peoples days were toil and suffering. When the Golden Age of Rome was seen in the past as the ideal time and the thoughts were that the farther we got from that Golden Age, the worse and worse it would get. The third is popular in the East and Native American's, the belief that time is cyclical and follows repeating patterns throughout history.
While thinking lately about time I've given a good deal of thought to why people believe as they do. What would cause someone to think their situation in life, or the next generations will only get better....or can only get worse? Mostly, I think, that it has to deal with the basic philosophical questions we all struggle with. Where did we come from, why are we here, where are we going, and so forth. What I have realized is that what you believe gets whatever support it has from two distinct sources. The first of these is the factual evidence, if any, that backs it; the second is the emotional appeal, if any, that it offers to those who embrace it.
When you ask anyone about their beliefs in the afterlife, or the future for that matter. Everyone will loudly tell you that they base all of their predictions of the first. Facts. Because habits of thinking hardwired into contemporary culture treat the first of those as though it’s the only thing that matters. Then reacts to any mention of the second, emotional appeal, with the same sort of embarrassed silence that might greet an echoing fart at a formal dinner party. Since human beings aren’t passionless bubbles of intellect, though, the second source of support is fairly often the more important and the more revealing of the two. You see, humans seek a description of beliefs that is emotionally appealing to them and then simply fill in the facts later to justify their choice (sometimes no matter how ludicrous those manufactured facts need to be).
I said apt at the top of the page because this week Tom called with some horrible news. Lovely Suzy, my "aunt" has been found to have terminal esophageal cancer. Now if any person alive should believe in the function of time, and the religions that follow it, laid out by Augustine of Hippo's (that all things will decline until death where you are liberated to utopia of some sort or other) it is poor Suzy. Who's life has been on long continuous battle from polio, scoliosis, lung problems, etc.
Notice, in both the Joachimist (things just keep looking better until utopia) and Augustinian (things are going down the crapper, we deal with it stoically and die, and then get to utopia) both share the common theme of utopia in the afterlife. The third, which I intend to explore for my book, is a more Eastern position. That time is cyclical. Reincarnation and many other religions steal from this view.
I could tell from the conversation that both Tom and his brother Paul are struggling with this. Having someone in your life suffer without the ability to help them is very, very difficult. In times like this it's easy to see why humans tend to latch on to a belief that is emotionally appealing. Whether Suzi will be sitting with Rita and Bill looking down on us from heaven, reborn into another life, or simply destined to be only a strangely positioned rock in a similar row of rocks in an otherwise smooth field...we may never know.
One thing for sure that I gained from Suzi that is irreplaceable to me. Is the lessons I've been able to learn about her loving brother Tom from his interactions with her. Seeing him, throughout her life, care for, endure, and love that woman has given me glimpses of the depths of him. It has taught me how selfless, logical, yet empathetic a man should be. Never, in all of her suffering has he hid away somewhere and sent his love piecemeal through cards or the phone. He has taken her into his life and given her someone when at times she had none. For that I thank you Suzi. I didn't know you nearly as well as I should have and unfortunately it doesn't seem time is going to allow that.....but here's hoping that in whichever way you see it, the future does you well.