It’s a common practice. No matter the place, no matter the era, humans need to make marks as we pass through the tunnel of time. The days of our birth, anniversaries of significant life events, and even the date on which our lives end are all recorded and remembered. It’s as if the stream of time is too inexorable and its current too strong that without markers on the banks, our lives would seem to be a chaotic flood. As the hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote in 1719, “Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away; they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.”
Yet in spite of all our remembrances we don’t really know how to explain time. No lesser mind than Saint Augustine was as puzzled as we are and wrote, ‘What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know.’ (Confessions 397-400 CE)
What Augustine hints at it the reality that we each have a unique understanding of ourselves in time. Each person has collected a set of snapshot memories for the year 2016. These memories lie in our minds like a box of jumbled photographs in no particular order. If one were to stack the photographs and flash through them, the sequence would make no sense at all.
Videographer Ti Tracy illustrated this with two YouTube videos.
Both were filmed over a minute just before midnight on 3 June 2015 on the Las Vegas Strip, the videos contain the same set of a few thousand images.
In the first, the time ordering was scrambled; the second shows the images in the original time sequence. The video with the scrambled images makes no sense.
The second is quite logical as the brain can process the flow of images through the traffic in a logical order.
It is a mysterious property of our minds that connects the random events of life and threads them together into a logical flow which can make sense. We sort our memories into story sequences to give life logic and meaning . Eduardo Galeano wrote ‘Out of fear of dying, the art of storytelling was born.’
Tonight 2016 will tick itself to death at 23h59m59s and in the very next second 2017 will be born. In that moment will anything have changed? It’s hard to know. What is clear is how much we need an opportunity at least every three hundred and sixty five days to believe that a page has turned, the past has passed and a new beginning awaits.
Tonight we will paint the past with nostalgia, and bravely face our fears and premonitions of what awaits. We will hope, we will hug, and be as human as all who have gone before us in time.
May chapter 2017 of your life story be filled with meaning and peace.
Happy new year to us all.