I had a conversation with you yesterday. I know, I know, it’s not fair to hold you to something you don’t remember–but I did. I promise. You were sitting in your chair, and I in mine. You looked up at me from your magazine (or newspaper, was it?) and said, “I do declare!”
“What is it that you might declare?”, I declared back in your direction.
“I do declare that now is the time for an insightful cliche to cross the chasm between us, thereby joining us in an unending unity. You might ask what this insightful cliche should be, and that would be a great question. This is something we must establish. What will it encompass? Man’s inhumanity to man? The duality of man’s being? No, that is too small. We need bigger!
“Shall it encompass all Space? Shall I tell you of the line of contingencies that allows all manner of matter to exist, and then wonder whether there might be an un-caused Cause to it all? Shall I talk of how all things seem to have a purpose, a telos (if we are to use such formal ideas), or a–if I dare use this word–design? Or should I instead show how everything from storms to sex show a messiness and randomness that betrays a haphazardness to the whole scheme thereby testifying to the blind, design-less luck that offers us the statistically-unlikely (though not impossible) chance that we could have this discussion in the first place sans Designer?”
You continued: “No, even this is too small. All of humanity won’t do. All of space won’t do. Our cliche needs to be on the substance that stitches all of these together. Ah! I’ve got it! By what essence does man exist in space? Time! Our interpersonal-unifying cliche must have to do with Time itself. Here is my cliche to you:
“Time is merely an agreed-upon construct by which we agree to subject ourselves for the sake of order and causal understanding. (Ah, I’m already feeling profound!) And yet, Einstein has showed us that Time and Space are related, thereby showing us that even Time takes up Space. What might this mean?”
I replied, “Should I wipe this bead of sweat about to fall into my eye?”
“Hm…. Why would you?”
“It is a nuisance to my comfort and ease of vision.”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“It would bring your attention to the fact that I am sweating in an environment that does not lend itself to the opinion that it is appropriate to sweat. The ease with which I sweat is an embarrassment I wish not to bring to your mind.”
“This is true. I believe you should not wipe the bead of sweat away then”
“I tend to agree. I will not. What magazine (or newspaper) might you be reading?”
“Whatever magazine (or newspaper) might make you think of me as an educated, urban intellectual with an interest in the well-being of my fellow man.”
“But what kind of well-being? Social, spiritual, psychological, literary, cultural, or economic?”
“What do you tend to value the most?”
At this question, I thought for a moment. I looked at you, sitting there in your chair, seemingly so calm in your interior while your external self seemed so wildly ill-at-ease (do you still not remember this conversation?). I wanted to give you an answer that would only bring your attention to me if it would make you respect me. You are a man worth having the respect of, yet this is an honor you do not bestow lightly. Do you not know this about yourself?
I didn’t know what kind of magazine (or newspaper) you should have in your hands. The worn elbow-patches on your suit made me want to say The New Yorker, your shoes wanted me to say The Economist, your slacks screamed New York Times, though your glasses clearly said The Atlantic. Your socks said Philadelphia Inquirer, though your belt said National Enquirer.
WHAT SORT OF NEWSPAPER (OR MAGAZINE) MIGHT YOU BE READING?!
You broke my silence (I still can’t believe you’ve forgotten this part), saying “If Time takes up Space, but is relative, does this mean that Space is also relative (ah, we’ve come back to where we began!)? And if this is the case, what exactly are we defining as ‘Space’? Color, form, mass, weight, atomic arrangement, electron valence, magnetism, magnanimity? Which of these things is the ‘relative’ part?”
I moved my eyes to your hands, still thinking, “What kind of magazine (or newspaper)?”
You saw the distance my glance had to cross to reach your hands and you built off of this: “Further, what do we make of the absence of space between us, between these two chairs? Is it even an ‘absence’ or is it a ‘fulness’ we refuse to perceive? If I were to move towards you, before I could get to you, I’d have to arrive at the mid-way point between us. But, before I can reach this mid-way point, I would have to move half way to that distance, and before I could get there, I’d have to go half that distance. So on and so forth I’d travel through an infinite number of halves that I would have to transgress before meeting your space.”
My shoe spoke to you, saying, “Therefore it stands to reason that you will never get to me, but instead would be caught in the infinite regress of your transgresses.”
“No! It would mean that no two people ever cross paths or meet without having had to pass through infinity to get to one another.”
I looked through you, into that very eternity it took my eyes to travel before meeting yours.
And I was content.
Yes, this is what happened in our conversation yesterday. I can’t explain how much it pains me how fast you’ve forgotten. You really don’t remember?
All of this transpired within our fleeting glance when we crossed paths on Market Street. I, on my way to the subway, and you, seemingly late for a meeting.
Until next time…
This work by Paul Burkhart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.