“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser* Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” Replicant Roy Batty Blade Runner
Batty, in his last words, accepts that despite his physical superiority, that after his failure of finding a way to live longer, time is something that he simply can’t avoid and defeat. It is the reason why he saves Deckard. Looking down at him and seeing him struggle, holding on for his dear life, he realizes at that moment that both of them are equal – two creatures trying to survive, trying to hold on and extant beyond that finite existence that nature has given them.
I am standing in the middle of a black lava field that stretches for miles in all directions. I am told that prior to the eruption, this now barren landscape was lush with trees and filled with life. The beach at the ocean was so beautiful that it was the official island postcard, promoting this divine location – palm trees over a black sand beach. But time has scorched this once beauty – covered in molten black rock, twisted and burned by fire, trapped under a blanket of desolation. It is easy to loose hope in this No Man’s Land, a place where even the strongest of gods would feel abandoned – Hades never forgave his brothers. But all this is part of nature’s plan.
Past sunset, the sky and the horizon become one. The darkness takes over and if it wasn’t for this cloudless night with its millions of stars and gravity keeping me grounded, I wouldn’t know which way was up or which way was down. Despite the eeriness of the moment, something incredible is happening.
According to the Hawaiian mythology, Pele is the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes. It is believed that she lives in the Halema’uma’u crater, at the summit caldera of Kilauea, one of the Earth’s most active volcanoes. The residents of the Big Island take their belief in her quite seriously. And I understand now.
While daylight reveals a tortured landscape, at night time it is the blood of the planet that suddenly comes to be seen. And there is nothing tortured about it. Life is what is flowing under my feet. I feel it, I feel Pele, I feel the earth, I feel its force, its intensity – it is then that I realize, this place is not about death and destruction, it is about life and creation.
This planet is a creation of time. We are in fact nothing but the result of an ongoing experiment that has been going on for millions of years. Time is nature, it is the force that drives everything. As I stand by this boulder the size of a bus, slowly cracking its way forward, I come to understand the pace and rhythm of life.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Man’s relationship with time couldn’t be more different. Nature has given us time to evolve and develop an intelligence that is unmatched on this planet. But like any good fable, with such incredible potential came an even greater burden – self awareness. As much as we think of ourselves as omnipotent, god-like and capable of outstanding feats, we are nonetheless simple mortals that cripple over time. Independently of our legacy, even the greatest of kings will be at one point forgotten and become nothing. Our existence might be relevant to us, but in the scheme of the universe, we are nothing, not even a grain of sand.
Facing our mortality and vulnerability, we see time as a disease, as a theft, as an injustice, as a destructive force and as the most valued currency we possess. Aristotle said that
“Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of Time and is forgotten through the lapse of Time.”
And Napoleon reminded us that
“There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time. “
Cecelia Ahern, in her book The Gift, wrote that
“Time is more precious than gold, more precious than diamonds, more precious than oil or any valuable treasures. It is time that we do not have enough of; it is time that causes the war within our hearts, and so we must spend it wisely.”
But isn’t it through time that the most beautiful things are created? It takes nine months for a mother to create life. It takes years to find that peaceful place in your heart. It takes a lifetime to realize that your most precious possessions were the simplest things you tried so hard to avoid. Time is the complexity that I taste in my wine, it is the beauty of an oxidized piece of copper. It is the essence of everything I cherish and it is my mentor as it brings me back to reality and makes me understand the universe.
I once read a story about an Elder telling a young woman of her frantic pace and need to get things done on time – “You have watches, but no time.” In this culture of speed where even the simple gesture of saying thank you is seen as a waste of time (NY Times), where anything above 140 characters is not worth reading, how will we ever understand and appreciate the beauty of life? How will we achieve wisdom if we can’t even appreciate the time it takes to become wise. Have we become spoiled and arrogant, basking in a culture of convenience and overnight deliveries? Maybe it is time to stop and look at the world around us and realize what we have been missing.
Like a petal in the wind
Flows softly by
As old lives are taken
New ones begin
A continual chain
Which lasts throughout eternity
Every life but a minute in time
But each of equal importance
Little drops of water, little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean, and the pleasant land.
So the little minutes, humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages of eternity.
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* “Probably from Richard Wagner’s operatic adaption of the legend of the medieval German knight and poet Tannhäuser. Joanne Taylor, in an article discussing film noir and its epistemology, remarks on the relation between Wagner’s opera and Batty’s reference, and suggests that Batty aligns himself with Wagner’s Tannhauser, a character who has fallen from grace with men and with God but does receive redemption at the end. Both, she claims, are characters whose fate is beyond their own control.”