5/12/09

The Passage of Time

The semester's over, it's grey and rainy out. I'm reading a long book about death and killing. It's the perfect time for an existential crisis!

Having just taught my course on the meaning of life, I've been reading good writing on life and death by the best philosophers around, past and present, people like Peter Singer, Thomas Nagel, Robert Nozick, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Sartre, Richard Taylor, Victor Frankl, and my favorite despairing novelist, Leo Tolstoy. Oh yes, and I wrote a book that grapples with such things. With all that to draw on, I really ought to have contempt for a one sentence lyric from singer/songwriter James Taylor, he of the pretty songs, right? But here it is--the cure for what ails us, all in one sentence:

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.

Many of the above heavyweight thinkers worry a great deal about things coming to an end, like a semester, a holiday, a stage of life, the whole of a life. The problem is really time and it's awful tendency to ship things off to the past. Can't we just stop the whole thing for a moment? Sorry, but no. Or latch on to things that last for an eternity, like God and heaven? A nice thought, but I suspect there isn't anything like that. The solution is surely enjoying the passage of time.

What exactly would that be like? What is it to enjoy not just moments, or a bunch of moments (an hour, a weekend), but the passage of time? Whether James Taylor said it or a philosophical luminary, I'm going to have to think about it!

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Truth in posting. This is a slightly revised rebroadcast, but I was thinking about that sentence again. As my kids get ready to graduate from elementary school in a few weeks, it keeps coming to mind. Funny--I first ran into it in the front office of their school, where it was attractively inscribed on a bench. Maybe the people in charge over there know a thing or two about parental emotions.

5 comments:

Steve said...

The next line is a good one too:

Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill.

Jean said...

I like that too. Truth is, all I know is the first line--I saw it inscribed on a nicely painted bench. Now I've got to read/hear the rest of the song!

Carolyn Ann said...

One of my favorite James Taylor songs! A wonderful balladeer, is Jimmy-T. (At one of his concerts, a friend and I started shouting for "Jimmy T"; a few others in the audience picked up on it. Alas, it didn't make it through the entire audience, but it was fun!)

He's right, of course: simply "being", and enjoying, is quite an achievement. Not that many attain such a state! As a society, we seem to chase all around for solutions to achieve some "happiness", never actually stopping to define what that might be. The big house, the biggest TV, the huge SUV and so on don't make happiness; they create distress as we try and pay for them all.

Simply sitting and watching, not being concerned that we might be seen being less than productive... That can be a very satisfying time. But all in all, just enjoy the passage of time. After all, we never know what it's going to bring our way!

Carolyn Ann

T. said...

"What exactly would that be like?" Hmmm... a few lightweight thoughts I had on this.

T. said...

Maybe interesting NY'er review: "What can policymakers learn from happiness research?":
http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2010/03/22/100322crbo_books_kolbert?currentPage=all