Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always—
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.
— T.S. Eliot
Only through time is time conquered, Eliot also wrote. The moment as the world’s opening to God.
‘A person cannot live without a steady faith in something indestructible within him.’ Das Unzerstörbare… Isn’t that what you felt, that day in the chapel? An overwhelming power, gathering you up, making everything you are both meaningless and meaningful. The impersonal light through the stained-glass window. Your smallness and the greatness of God. Room to breathe. A sense of dignity.
Indestructible, that’s as good a word as any. Always already here, inside and outside you, before and after you. Not by works and not imputed. You feel it sometimes, like today. You can come to it or not, fall away from it and return, it will renew you. Unzerstörbar: there’s hope in that word, which sounds so harsh in German.
Existence is never neutral. No moment is insignificant or lacking in tonality. Each one can shine with a singular light, vibrate intensely, and suddenly can seem to unveil the ultimate depth of things. Leaden grey is, after all, a colour of the sky just as much as turquoise – and yet, how many monotonous, atonal moments, their singularity flown, are reduced to nothing! How many moments become colourless, their music silent! Has the call of Being deserted us then? From what sphere does this uncanny indifference descend upon us with all its weight? Where does this uncanniness itself come from?
– Michel Haar (tr. Brick)
The moment that holds time open for you: that gathers up your past and lets you face the future, slowly letting your life take shape. The slow steady arc of your life, held in its course and renewed in the moment – not just by the things you do from day to day, which pull you here and there only to fade back into the day…
Wouldn’t it be a kind of torment otherwise, this slow life? But you know what that’s like. Empty time. As if you’d lived the same life many times over and drained it of meaning. A ghostly life, as in Kafka’s story about Gracchus, the long-dead hunter whose barge was meant to take him to the beyond before it was blown off course, and who now floats aimlessly on the earth’s seas, unable to live or die.
This slow life, stretching time beyond all proportion. A flat horizon. Boredom. Whatever you do, you’ll be just as bored as before. How you resent it. It reaches such a pitch that it seems like time itself is boring, time is boredom and boredom is time, life is nothing but boredom. Boredom fills you so completely that now it’s only a small step to – what? You can almost see it, time itself, which you’ll only ever know as pure boredom… but you can almost see it, a time in which your boredom lifts like a fog, no, in which the hell of boredom has never existed, can’t exist, a time that knows nothing of boredom. You can almost see it: a kind of grace.
‘The instant [Augenblik] is a primordial phenomenon of originary temporality, whereas the “now” is merely a phenomenon of derivative time’, writes Heidegger. ‘The instant is not the fleeting “now”, but the collision between future and past.’ And: ‘Eternity is in the instant.’ Michel Haar, in his book on Heidegger, describes it as ‘the ekstatic point-source from which temporality as a whole springs: complete, undivided, enveloped in an atom, invisible to the commonplace of day, and as though eternally recommenced.’
Heatwave. It’s all people are talking about. It’s as if a glass dome’s been lowered over the Broads. There’s no escape. It hasn’t rained for a month and Norfolk is already the second-driest county in the country. People seem weighed down. Water levels have dropped leaving ugly stains on banks and sluices, lawns and heaths are yellow and crunchy underfoot, birds mammals and insects are flocking to water. The blackberries are ripe a month early. We’ve bought fans from Amazon and lie sweltering on the bed and sofa with our hot computers on our laps. If this is what it’s like here imagine what it’s like in Delhi, says S., or Riyadh. What’s it going to be like in fifty years? A hundred?
The Anthropocene, environmental scientists call it: the age in which humans have become the main cause of planetary changes. The effects of the horrifying feedback loop we’ve created is now happening in real time they say. The papers report droughts, floods and wildfires all over the world. Polar ice is melting and reflecting less heat from the sun, oceans are expanding and absorbing more. Freshwater around the Earth is drying up, mountains are breaking apart as their glaciers melt. As the seas warm and rise, earthquakes, hurricanes and floods are becoming commonplace. Crops are baking in the sun. Overheated forests are starting to give off rather than absorb carbon dioxide, raising temperatures further.
We can still ignore it for now, still enjoy ourselves, worry about our careers and relationships, raise children. But unless we arrest the loop, extreme weather will dwarf our lives. People all over the world will die of thirst, heat stress and starvation. There’ll be wars for resources. Coastal cities will be wiped out. Millions will flee the uninhabitable lands around the equator. The global north will become more and more fortified against refugees.