This week, my brother Scott’s home was damaged by fire, smoke, and water; it’s uncertain when he will be able to move back in – it depends on a number of things: assessing damage, repairing the structure, cleaning and drying floors, ceilings, and walls damaged by smoke and water. All these things depend on permits and inspections, the speed of repair crews and construction teams, and whether wet weather slows things down. Clocks and calendars may mark how long Scott will have to wait before moving back home, but Scott’s moving back home cannot be determined by those very clocks and calendars. Time is duration in such a circumstance much more that it is something divisible by hours, days, and weeks.
Yesterday, I sat in Saint Patrick’s church, praying alongside the family and friends of Marguerite Barrett as they gave her back to God. The funeral began at the time set by church and family, but there’s no particular schedule to the grief that comes when a beloved dies. Time seems to stop, then rush by, with no particular regard for the minutes and hours that the clock measures. Time is determined by love and loss so much more than it is by day, date, and time.
Children don’t experience time as adults do; it’s measured in duration – the time at the playground is much shorter than the time spent in the car getting there, even if the clock says otherwise.
In the larger sense, time and space are intertwined, bound together as the space-time continuum rather than separate entities. Time bends with space, influenced by creation. It’s true nature is much closer to a child’s experience of duration than to an adult’s measured-by-the-clock reality.
Scientists like Einstein and Hawking shared this truth in numerical form, complete with mind-bending verbal explanations. Perhaps it was their way of offering the truth of time without the usual earth-shattering event. But seeing its truth on paper, understanding it as an intellectual fact, doesn’t mean we’ll grasp it in our hearts and souls. For that, perhaps, we must become like little children.