Paradox of Time and Distance
Demons do not pack suitcases and travel with you. They wait for you at home. This is one of the luxuries of a vacation: the ability to leave behind all the unwanted baggage and take only those carry-on items essential for a good time. John Driscoll does not like metaphors, but he feels one is appropriate now: Vacation is the abandonment of the weight strapped on your shoulders. Only it is not a weight it is a burden. It is the setting down of the cross one carries. These metaphorical clichés are close, but Driscoll is not content, so he comes up with one more: Vacation is shucking off an old crusty skin and reveling in the nakedness of rebirth. Not quite, thought Driscoll, but it would suffice.
Judging by the frivolous thoughts of John Driscoll, it is not hard to discern he is leaving rather than returning.
His plane touched down. He taxied to the hotel. He took the elevator to his room. He opened the curtains and looked out on the city. It was a city he had never seen before, and therefore, it could not be linked nor tied up in memory. He marveled at the buildings shooting skyward and making for an exquisite skyline. A thought provoked by the new city entered his mind: Having never been here and never experienced the ambience, the sites or the people, each experience will be a novel one and must be experienced first hand, and only later can I juxtapose these experiences with old memories. The dependable mind being like an old photo album, he wondered what new pictures would make it into that album. But this is wrong thought John Driscoll: Comparison is the first act of the mind—it seeks to tame the foreign and exotic and ease the burden of newness by finding similarities. Only those new experiences too foreign to be quickly catalogued awaken the conscience to this new territory, thought John. And in this new territory, when the mind has a photo so rare and aberrant that it cannot be placed in a certain category in the old photo album, a new category with a blank page must be used. And a blank page causes an awkward feeling within a person of habit. This inability of memory to find a comparable experience inflicted John with another dilemma. The slowing down of time. With each novel idea, person, site that John thought, met, or visited, the hands of time slowed down.
John called this slowing down of time “the abandonment of routine.” John was aware of its efficacy from the flight, baggage claim, and ride to the hotel. Having nothing to compare these firsts with, he noticed the protraction of each event—protraction referring to both time and distance. Also, having his awareness piqued by these new events, he was not able to let time slip by unnoticed or in a daydream like he could back home. The compounding of these phenomena—incomparability and excitement—made for the drawn-out length of time. Yes thought John, when the routine of life is broken, change inflicts us with the slowing down of time. Not knowing beforehand what a place or day entails, causes the day to be drawn out. We must constantly be thinking of where to go, what to do, how to get there. All this thinking makes one tired. And for the first time, John Driscoll realized he was a being of eternity trapped in a field of a time which ticked too fast or too slow and never just right.
In order for time to pass with briskness requires nothing more than the absence of thought or the monotony of routine. The quick passage of time, thought Driscoll, is the acceptance of death and the acquiescence of life. People love routine because they do not have to think about time, and if they are not thinking about time, they do not realize that with each tick of the clock and each coinciding breath, they are one second closer to death. No, routine is not the acceptance of death; it is the refusal to think about death. But what people caught in the rote don’t know is the thought of death is what makes life precious, and by nullifying the fear of approaching death, life becomes insignificant. To think about time—is to think about death—is to lengthen the clock’s incessant ticking—and in turn, lengthen life.
Driscoll unpacked his bags, headed out the lobby and perambulated through the city. He had not traveled far, so he thought, before his legs began to ache. He was so enamored with the large buildings, the exotic and unfamiliar faces, the sounds, that he walked in rapture until as just mentioned, a sharp pain in the joints and calves hindered his rapture. He turned around in pain and began his return to the hotel. His return puzzled him. His walk to the point where he had first felt the pain and consequently decided to turn around had seemed short—short referring to a span of both time and distance. His return was long, and his legs were beleaguered by the sharp pain intensifying as he walked, and he passed entire sections of buildings that, try as he might, he could not remember passing before. This is odd, thought Driscoll. This is the same street, same buildings, same sounds, and yet my return, albeit fatigue has set in, seems twice to three times as long—long referring to time and distance.
“Paradox of time and distance,” Driscoll called it as he mulled it over while recuperating on his bed. Somehow, Driscoll was convinced memory played the key role in the lengthening of time. But he knew this went against his earlier supposition that memory was the nullifier of time because memory was the protagonist of routine. But, rationalized Driscoll, my memory had convinced me the walk I took was short. All the while in the throes of rapture, I hardly realized time passing. When I compared my jaunt of rapture to the laborious return, had I not known how short of time it was to get me to my first point of fatigue in comparison with how long it took to return, I would have had nothing to compare it to, and I would not have noticed the distance or time. This is wrong as well, Driscoll argued. For not knowing is what lengthens time. Thus the plane ride and taxi ride to my hotel seemed so drawn out.
With memory out of the equation, Driscoll’s mind now played with the idea that emotions and physical attributes contribute to the lengthening and shortening of both distance and time. Yes, that was it. Anticipation made time speed up, but despair slowed it down. Excitement, exhilaration, ecstasy, these emotions made time a fleeting phantom never to be caught. Despair, despondency, and depression, these emotions, contrariwise, made time slow down until each tick seemed to be drenched in molasses. I will have to revise the metaphor, thought Driscoll, but yes, this is true. Tragedy slows down time, and happiness speeds it along. Ecstasy slips us out of the field of time, and thus we cannot remember how long we were ecstatic. Agony has the same effect only in an adverse way—short spurts of time seem eternal. These two poles on the spectrum of emotions function beyond time’s constraints.
Driscoll was grateful for his visit to the city, and he realized these musings of his, regardless of how irrelevant, never could have been experienced at home. Why? Because the weight of being and the demons of routine which hindered him, were prevalent enough to preoccupied his time and mind, and forced him to focus his existence upon them. And these were smart demons, never driving Driscoll to agony or ecstasy, never abusing the ascendancy their host granted them, just hindering him enough to make him stay miserable but not enough to make him notice his misery as anything out of the norm for the rote of life. Driscoll soaked in his newfound freedom away from his demons, and in order to lengthen his time in the city, he made sure never to do the same thing twice.
One morning he got up early and went and visited the museums. Driscoll was so impressed by the art gallery that he thought he might visit it again. Only, in order to evade routine, he purposely did not set his alarm clock the next morning and slept in until ten o’ clock. The third morning he got up at eight and called room service and ordered three muffins—a blatant deviation from his normal bowl of cereal. During the first day, he perused the streets looking at the sights, sounds and exotic faces. The second day he carried a book with him and sitting on a park bench, began reading, pausing when necessary to look at the sights and sounds. He wondered how long before the sites, sounds and people would lose their novelty and become routine. The third and final day, he returned to the art gallery in the afternoon. Only this time, he decided to sit in front of the paintings striking him as aesthetically pleasing. He picked a Picasso, Renoir and Magritte, and sat in front of each until he had written a poem signifying what each painting impinged upon his mind. The poems did not try to capture the essence of the paintings. Driscoll knew he was not the talent nor had the patience to plumb the minds of these great painters. The poems were rather expositions of his own thoughts while looking at the masterpieces.
Driscoll’s nights were just as random. One night he enjoyed a sit down meal at an upscale restaurant. The next night he went to a dance club, something completely off par for his routinized behavior. And the final night, he went to the top of the tallest building and looked down upon the city. On the elevator ride up, Driscoll saddened by the thought he would not be able to share or explain what made his trip so exciting and invigorating with those closest to him. He was perplexed because, during his vacation, he thought of loved ones at home and how they would appreciate this or that, but he knew once he returned home, his attempt at an explanation at what made the trip so great would just be in vain, and he also knew as soon as he got home, he would try to erase all memories of the vacation for two reasons: First, he would do this so when he took another vacation, it would not get confused or compared to this one. Second—and this reason would not be understood until later—Driscoll wanted to mitigate the awfulness of returning to his old skin, demons, and a routine affording little joy. Forgetting was the only way to make his normal life livable.
Atop the highest building and with a view that Driscoll thought might rival the one he would have atop Mount Everest (Driscoll’s comparison not mine), John thought about how far away his home was—far away both in distance and in time. The trip to the city felt like such a long trip for Driscoll. Home a distant memory. And now he would sleep one final time in a foreign room and then return to his familiar surroundings.
The fourth morning, after eating a bowl of Cheerios, Driscoll packed up his belongings and left the room. He taxied to the airport, a long and dull ride—distance and time. He checked his luggage and went to the appropriate gate and had a half an hour wait until boarding. Antsy and sad, he read from the novel he brought, but he could not concentrate. Finally, boarding was allowed. Driscoll took the window seat. He wanted one last view of the city that had afforded him a momentary freedom from the rote of his life. Outside the window, the lights from the city glowed like sentinels of freedom. How rapid time had flown by him he thought, and yet, just yesterday it seemed like such a long period of events. The entire trip now seemed to be a quick flash—like a lightning strike. A metaphor that again would need to be revised, thought Driscoll. He realized that hindsight or being out of the picture is what made it seem so quick. When he was in the city, he was within the picture and could not surmise when it would end, nor could he sum up his feelings because the experience was not complete. Now, on the plane, he could contemplate the entire picture without bias because the time had come to an end. And with summation the necessary process of forgetting begins.
Driscoll slept. He awoke, and to his surprise, still had more than half of the flight in front of him. He began thinking about home. He felt a subtle and tacit change taking place in him. Psychologically, he was preparing to put on the dead and shucked skin he had abandoned. The demons, he knew, had not left his house just because he had left. He would reemerge from the plane and ride home and within days, at the longest, become what he was before he left. Memory, especially once it crystallizes into habit, was the strongest bondage man possessed, thought Driscoll.
Driscoll had always viewed the scripture which reads, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the son of Man hath not where to lay his head” as one of the saddest. But was it? To not know each night where you would sleep, to constantly be on the move, meant time and memory could not hold you in their grasp, and therefore, the demons that attach themselves to men in routine would not have a house to inhabit. It also meant death would have always been on the mind, and for that, life must have seemed very long—long in distance but especially in time.
Driscoll’s plane landed without problems. He gathered his luggage, trudged to his car, and headed home. Upon entering the front door, John exclaimed: “Ah, home! Home, the place where man lays down his life and picks up the baggage of routine.” Man, thought Driscoll, man was made to be a nomad. Life—life was meant to be long—in both time and distance. But Driscoll’s thought escaped him here, and he could not prolong the inevitable and routine had started to grab at his ankles like a tiny child latching on to his father’s leg and his wife started asking him how his trip was and his oldest daughter asked him if he brought her anything and the dog started barking and he walked to his room and changed out of the shirt he had bought while on vacation and he put on the old familiar blue shirt his wife had bought him and he looked in the mirror before reemerging from his room and he smiled once and he thought he recognized the same face he had been used to for the past thirty years and he thought he saw that familiar gleam in his bluish eyes and he took the short walk from his bedroom back into the living room where his family awaited him—the short walk in both time and distance—and Driscoll did not realize he emerged into his coffin.