Four Parts of Time
For the purpose of this Note and Blog Post I am looking at time and the related qualities of chronology or change as being composed of four parts. These four parts are the past, the present, the future and eternity. Eternity really does not concern us directly in this Note and is mostly a religious word and concept for most people but it is the base and fundament overarching all time and enduring with little change. Many scientists do not believe in eternity but there is plenty of evidence for it in the experiments and writing of these same scientists. It may not exactly be the eternity of Christian Systematic theology but is close enough to deserve the use of the term eternity. Not all that is somehow involved in the flow of time is consumed or transformed thereby. Eternity is not my topic — the future is my topic.
I have written a lot of feature articles and sports stories which have been published and include partial biographies of one or more people. I have alsoread agreat number of biographies of people living and dead. I just read Penny Junor’s book Prince William: The Man Who Will be King and in recent weeks have read parts of bigraphies of George Washington and Peter the Great as well as a biographical novel about Julius Ceasar. I have edited early drafts of my mother’s memoirs earned a Master of Arts Degree in History which involved a lot of biographical reading and some writing of that type. These are only a few of the reasons why I think of many things in terms of a human lifetime. I am in this very Note writing yet another bit of autobiography as I have often done before. What does the human life teach us about the future?
Prince William’s book is about the life he has lived up untill the recent past in the glaring light of his expected future responsibilities. His life involves studies, friendships, deaths, military training and service and a love affair of interest to millions. He seems to me as well secured in his line of work as almost anyone else. I will say that and also remember that there are many who dislike he and his mother for their common touch, his father for his imperious qualities and the whole family for their expenses. But the real solidity of his life must be kept in mind when I return to discussing him below. He is a busy man doing things that matter all day long on many days.
Once someone is dead we can look at their life as a time ray. From conception or birth to death they had a certain amount of time for the biological and bigraphical contiuum of life as we all are experiencing regardless of how one feels or what one believes about what came before or after that continuum. During that entire continuum of time the present stayed some undefinable protion of life which was more or less constant whether we think of it as an instant, a minute, an hour, a day or a week. The past kept increasing. The quantity which kept diminishing as they traveled forward on this timeline was the future. Most of them were more or less aware of this fact. All of us alive today know that this portion of the universe which constitutes the future in our ordinary lives is ever diminishing untill it disappears from the point of view of a future historian ( or some such observer). But there are of course other points of view.
We all either know someone who has dodged death at close range or have done so and some of us have done so many times or at least more than once. Those points are times when from the point of view on the continuum the future had shrunk to a very tiny resource and then suddenly expanded again. Those who have children also feel connected to the future beyond their own mortality in a different way than they did before they had children. Others find some semblance of this extension of the living future in books they have published or which have been published about them buildings with their names on them, scrapbooks worth passing down to their relatives and even medals, prizes and awards for which good records are kept..
President Barack Hussein Obama has never written a book which can be in very simplistic terms called a memoir or an autobiography but he has written two books with significant biographical elements. Both
Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream are in many ways the story of his life and associated family history in two installments. I have not read every single word of either book and no longer recall how close I got to reading every single word. Many people review books having read far less than I have read of these books but I do not like to do that. It is no secret that I dislike Obama. However, I may know the gist of what his books say without knowing their precise import and proposed policy as regards many issues. I think that he wrote about his past very much with an eye to his future. I think that while a small percentage of voters read his books the books had a big impact on his becoming President as did books by Jimmy Carter’s semi-autobiography help his chances. This shift to biographies before the Presidency is perhaps not the norm but quite a fewh ave been written after the Presidency and outside of the topic of biographical writing Jefferson was President in no small part because he wrote the Declaration of Independence and Madison because he wrote many things, possibly including partial drafts of the US Constitution and also many of the Federalist Papers. Even those writings that are not biographies show a capacity to sustain the continuity of prose.
It is possible I will publish my own memoirs some day. However, I already appear in tow such books I did not author and which are told of the life I shared from another point of view. Those are the books by my mother Go You are Sent: An Incredible Odyssey of Faith and Our Family’s Book of Acts: To Love and Serve the Lord in which are told many events enfolded in real themes of my own life. In addition my brief biography has appeared in various newspapers and magazines in varying degrees of brevity and accuracy on a few occasions. For me my perception of my own life is compsed pretty equally of three parts. Those parts are my feeling about my past, my current sense of well-being and my expectations for the future. These all interact and then while eternity is the longest period it is a minority of my assessment of my life and that is on principle. Perhaps I would fraction evaluation and feelings about my life as 28% past, 30% present, 31% future and 11% eternity. If something really good were to happen it would improve my view of the future and my evaluation of the past it would not only enhance my enjoyment of the present. Currently I find the projection of my short, long and indefinite term future so bad that it drags the whole view of my life into the really unappealing category. I am not suggesting I would change a lot of what I have done. I knew I was taking risks and the nature of risk is that one may lose. For me the outcome of my life has been in many ways horrible but I do not fault the journey all that much. Nonethless, it is a journey I had hoped would be more rewarding.
In the unhappiness and relative gloom of my life as it is there is time to try to set out my records and I am easily able to do this in partial and incomplete ways. My eager and total willingness to take the chances and do the work have produced a life that can on the one hand be mediocre and at the same time feel really unendurable and yet I have probably rebuilt my health this year to have more to endure. But as I live out the decades of hell to which I am condemned I have the chance to set out the record of my past on my Linked-In profile and in other places. I have gotten in better shape and it is doubtful that misery alone will soon produce the massive heart attack which could have been a near and convenient way out. The futures lade out before me mostly fall into a set of patterns that I hate so very much. Yet I feel that I must husband and care for my future no matter how distasteful it is and that is because the future is a resource.
Supply of the Future
I have lived a life of many brushes with a very foreshortened future. That being the case I have also known the joy of having a very short life expectancy suddenly turn into a much longer one. Yet, despite all of this there is the ongoing and continuous sense that the future is disappearing. In the context of trying to do a number of things which require a great deal of time one has a growing sense of life’s impossibilities. I am far more aware on a daily basis of what I will certainly not do than I am aware of anything that I may yet do. It is not so easy to decide what choices to make when one reaches the point where most of the most important options have been foreclosed and one is still alive to face the future. If one still has significant internal resources but has taken a sufficient number of riscks and labored a sufficeient number of hours that one feels he or she should be either checked out completely or in a place one finds more suitable.
In my list of the hundred most watchable people for the second post 9-11 decade I included among others myself, Hu Jintao, Osama Bin Laden, Prince Charles, Prince William and his wife the Duchess of Cambridge. I am feeling pretty low and many will argue that Hu Jintao is no longer watchable. Bin Laden is watched on screens around the country and abroad in the film Zero Dark Thirty. I still think that both Hu Jintao and I have some influence and significance which transcends our absence from the headlines. However, the Prince of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are much in the news, much in the writings of biographers and are very active in the wok which involves many millions of people in the Commonwealth and Europe as well as elsewhere. I read the Junor book with interest. However, it is not impossible that their time in the limelight will be cut short. I think the British Monarchy is fairly secure but the law has been changed to allow the daughters of sovereigns to inherit even if they have brothers. This has not disenfranchised Prince Charles but refers to the the daughters of William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. However, the Prince of Wales has many critics. Britain’s history is far more volatile than is imagined and it is not inconceivable that Princess Anne and her line will replace her more celebrated and troubled brother and his line. Nobody is discussing this as a real likelihood in the main. But if it happened the future would change for a great number of people. The King Edward who married the American Mrs. Simpson had no children and Prince Charles has sons born to the daughter of an Earl. The differences between them are enormous.
Defining the Future
With my camera missing and many reverses in my life and having wasted a great deal of time and energy on getting ready for possibly re-entering graduate school I find that my future is amorphous and unpleasant in a greater degree than before although it has long been so for me. But I am aware that as long as I live I will have to define it. I am not alone in needing to define the future, as a nation America is in need of seriously defining its future. It is in fact doing that. Nonetheless, not just any definition will do. I am not happy with the definitions we are creating and have written a great deal about those definitions and my own unhappiness with them. My unhappiness about the future of the country frames and completes my personal unhappiness. I will proceed into what remains of the future with what resolve I can muster. I will likely do it with no less nor more enthusiasm than I often have. However, while I am alive I will have future to contend with and so will everyone else.