Saturday, May 16, 2009


Despite many cullings, the books on my shelves carbon-date my interests. In my younger days I used to buy a book – more regularly books - when seeking an answer to a problem - how to teach grammar, how to lead the good life, how to develop a joyous temper, how the Roman Empire fell, how to write poetry, how to grow better roses, how to find truth, the nature of art or of the Godhead. I don’t bother so much now. Time is a bonus which I like most humans have squandered.

As a young man I read Augustine, Plato. Machiavelli and John Stuart Mill. My understanding was not as great as my intent. I was at that stage of life when being serious was the thing to be. One question posed by Augustine intrigued me, ‘what is time?’ His answer ‘I know not’ has never been trumped. Measured yes, the same impulse that drove ancient civilizations to measure distance made them treat time the same way.

Three of our measures are natural – the day, the earth’s rotation, the month, the moon’s cycle, the year, the planet’s orbit – the rest are of our devising. Down the ages our species worked to cut time into chunks in an attempt to control if not understand it - sundail, clock, watch and carbon dating. We measure time now in detail.

The last time I made a trip to the Wellington tip – sorry, the southern landfill – I was weighed and clocked in and out. I spent precisely 12 minutes 14 seconds there. Big brother’s watching as you dump your rubbish. Augustine’s question lurks in that visit. The connection between the man who threw a cartoon of rose cuttings into the concrete trench and the man now paying for the use of the tip is his consciousness linking the two events. They are not simultaneous and the moment they are over they are gone, unrepeatable. Fascinating! Exhilarating! Frustrating! Existence is a series of fleeting moments. In it we move and have our being.

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