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Time Piece

May 28, 2013
How bound are we by the constraints of time?

How bound are we by the constraints of time?

I have just started reading Tiziano Terzani’s novel “A Fortune-Teller Told Me” – an autobiography, which recounts the specific tale of how Terzani, a journalist, avoided death in 1993 by following a prophecy made by a fortune-teller he met twenty years earlier.

The fortune-teller told him not to fly for the whole of 1993 and, in following this advice, Terzani not only embarked on a twelve month adventure covering many thousands of miles, but he also inadvertedly gave up his place on a UN helicopter, carrying other journalists, which went down on 20 March 1993 in Cambodia.

This, I already know after the opening chapters, will be a book which challenges my assumptions about several things.  Including, perhaps, that of the human capacity to see into the past and the future.

My own single experience of going to a fortune-teller happened in Whitley Bay (a town in the North East of England), on one of my birthdays whilst I was reading English at University.  I remember being there with my parents and them paying £5 to a gypsy woman to read my palm.  I was to live for a “very long time”, she declared, and would make “lots of money and be very successful”.

Satisfied beyond all measure (despite appreciating that she wasn’t exactly ‘kosher’) we then went off in search of a pub – as was my daily habit during my three years of studies – so I could practice the very opposite art of spending money that wasn’t even mine in the first place, and for which I had done nothing more to acquire than merely to sign an overdraft registration form.

Anyway, this post is not about reading peoples’ minds.  It is, instead, about the governance of time, and how it affects our minds, our actions, thoughts and our well-being.

I was intrigued by these lines in Terzani’s narrative:

“In one of the many fine passages in Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, the prince – soon to become Buddha, the Enlightened One – is sitting on the riverbank. It strikes him that once the measurement of time is waived, the past and the future are ever-present – like the river, which at one and the same moment exists not only where he sees it to be, but also at its source, and at its mouth. The water which has yet to pass is tomorrow, but it already exists upstream; and that which has passed is yesterday, but it still exists, elsewhere, downstream.”

“Once the measurement of time is waived” is a beautiful, timeless, concept.

I was reading this particular page earlier this evening on a flight between Chennai and Delhi, one I have made before, and the analogy of the river resonated.

That on each occasion of making this flight I was of different age, mind, and purpose needn’t have had anything to do with the two years which had past between the respective trips.  By waiving the measurement of time, you allow yourself to reflect on other things which have shaped who you are.

For me, seeing the world through the lenses of small children – my daughters – only serves to enhance the extent to which it is so very obvious that by living within the construct of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years, do we risk missing out on other things.

It is enlightening to watch how my kids’ lives are not influenced in any way by time.  Whilst adults have an impulse to rue the speed at which “time flies”, or curse the end of a weekend, or the wait in a queue, for Florence and Martha, with innocence, comes an instinct to be driven by feelings and emotions, by energy and movement, by humour, joy and sadness.

I’ll be sure to note down whenever it is that each of the girls first learns to tell the time.  With pride, and perhaps now also with a tinge of regret.

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