Comet, Thoreau and Cox: Thoughts on Time

Reflections by Melody

We recently watched a movie (Comet, 2014, dir. Sam Esmail), and were struck by a scene in which the female lead Kimberley stands slouched against a wall, cigarette in hand, and says

“You know how there’s time-based art?… There’s a beginning and a middle and an end…You’re restrained to that time line, that way of experiencing it. But then there’s paintings: no beginning, no middle, no end. You see what you want to see, when you want to see it. No restrictions. It’s just there.”

She is a character who lives in the moment, whereas Dell, the other lead, continually thinks five minutes ahead, considering the things that could go wrong. Kimberley wants her life to be like a painting – she mourns the confines of time that dictate how she must perceive her own life.

She is correct in that we do not perceive a painting in chronological terms, although I must point out that a painting is created chronologically. There is a beginning and middle (perhaps not quite an end, because the piece continues to be made and remade with every viewer) to a painting.

I think the beauty of looking at a painting (or other types of stationary visual arts) is that you practice awareness. It is meditation to look carefully at a painting. Extended gazing gives time for the piece to affect you, and in this state of observation, you are able to transcend time in a way.

Henry David Thoreau, whom we admire greatly for his thoughts and the practical way he lived out his philosophy, seems to locate the state of timelessness (i.e. eternity) in the present moment:

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”  (Walden, 1854)

Thus he offers an answer to Kimberley’s concern about the confines of time by suggesting it can be transcended by being present in the Right Now.

And then today I have stumbled across something the scientist Brian Cox has said about Einstein’s theory of space-time:

“If I leave a place in space, then it doesn’t cease to exist when I’ve left it, and in space-time, if I leave an event it doesn’t cease to exist when I’ve left it.”

He is saying that all my past events still exist, just at a different coordinate in space-time than I am in. His view seems to agree with Kimberley’s idea about life as a painting. If all moments – past, present, future – in a life exist, then the past is not fading away while the future is gaining substance, but the whole of a life exists. Exists together, and in a sense can be seen not as a beginning, middle and end, but more like a painting. This contemplation is humbling; the universe is a Great Mystery.

And in light of these musings, I must let my mind have some space to reshape…

A new way of approaching the time I have;

Yes, a fresh way of gently entering each moment I have,

and of finding the Eternal in the Right Now,

Of not mourning the past,

or trembling about the future.

Through contemplation of things such as painting,

may I find a new way of experiencing,

of transcending time,

and looking with an open and up-turned face at  the world about me.



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