11 July 2011
Time is a Wave
Light travels that way; so does sound. Why not time?
I interrupted my month in Jerusalem with a quick journey home to Brooklyn for thirty-six hours, a noble adventure, indeed. Breakfast in Jerusalem; lunch in Tel Aviv; and dinner aboard a plane, flying backwards into the wind of time-zones, one day diminishes while another strengthens and then, in time, darkens and diminishes as well.
The book I am reading is David Grossman's new novel, "Falling Out of Time," about parents grieving for a lost son. On Sunday, with the Fellows, we stood over Uri Grossman's grave in Jerusalem, while a faculty member, Ilana Kurshan, read her moving translation of Grossman's eulogy for his son Uri, who died during the last operation of the Second Lebanon War five years ago. Flying back in time over continents and oceans, one's consciousness about the temporary nature of our existence is heightened and deepened as we pass over mountain tops and bodies of water.
Reading Grossman, I am acutely reminded of the timelessness of mourning. The dialogue between husband and wife, mother and father, and their dead son, takes place in what feels like time beyond time, a memory ghost--a smell, a touch, a voice, the spark of an eye--appearing as presence, is in an instant gone, consumed by time. Greedy time. Voracious time. Relentless time. Uncontainable time.
I think back to times in my own life in which I've mourned. Grandfather, grandmother, father, friend. Eruptions in time, disturbances, their events are their own assertion of an existential principle: Time Belongs to No One. We live in Time. We die in Time. Active dying, we know, is one such process where the curtain is open, however briefly (or sometimes, agonizingly long) and we can see up close the experience of that submission to Time. With the taste of death in our mouths, we go hungrily searching for signs of life, only to discover they're like clues already gone, consumed into Time.
As the sun went down Sunday evening in Jerusalem, the muezzin's call in a neighboring Arab village layered time. A short "time" later, Jews entered a small shul to pray their evening prayers. As the hour "struck," (another insertion, eruption in Time) the news was read on the radio and a church bell rang. "Eternal, what is man, that You have regard for him, or the son of man, that You make an account of him? Man is like a breath; his days are as a shadow that passes away. Eternal, bow Your heavens and come down; touch the mountains that they may smoke. Cast forth lightning and scatter them; send out Your arrows and discomfit them. Stretch forth Your hands from on high; rescue me, and deliver me out of many waters, out of the hand of strangers."*
Time's waves in Jerusalem, at times a symphony of profoundest beauty; at other moments, like the irreducible static of cellphone towers, asserting a ridiculous and temporary hegemony. The magnetic allure of national and religious narrative is the very structure we need, the totality that organizes our otherwise lost and un-moored selves.
And then landing in New York at 9 pm when in my mind 9 pm on this day already happened. And being confronted with another organization of Time, Nation, Narrative, and Self. Travelers, airport workers, passport control agents, dispatchers, and taxi drivers from every place on earth one can imagine. More Narrative Static than anyone can comprehend; and so the universe of time that is America simply reduces particular national identities to mere particle waves. And in the parking lot, I see the flag waving. How does that happen--really? Nervously (whistling in the dark?) I check my watch.
Outside the terminal in Queens it is warm and damp; the waters off the bay are a redolent presence. In the back of the cab, the "air" is too "conditioned" and so I roll down the window and take in Atlantic Avenue, Eastern Parkway, Plaza Street. At home, putting down my bags, I am received by unconditional love, deeply moved and appreciative, humbled by its presence, still hearing the whispered voices of Grossman, searching in Time for a loss he'll never re-gain.
It is a thought, a burden, an obligation at times too great for any one person to bear alone and so one sees, in a submission to Time, that its waves soften edges, change reality's shape, making both a place, and time, for us to live.