Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
— The first lines of T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton,” the first of his four grand poems published as The Four Quartets.
After the cosmic time sweep in Eliot’s first sentence, the third sentence brings me along toward understanding that ruminating or regretting the past is a waste of time. After all: “All time is unredeemable.” I don’t get it back. So, why fret with “abstraction” when I can live here now, present for life’s impressive and sometimes-random and sometimes-sychronistic events?
Plans do not always go according to plan, and I get caught up in periodic abstraction. Something snags my attention — either on the conscious or sub-conscious level — and I settle into too much thinking, not enough doing. Fortunately, living with three sons provides little time for rumination. Someone always needs a ride. There are games to watch, runs to Moe’s to make, and homework to help with. (I apologize for blowing the Queen’s English by ending a sentence with a preposition; however, the proper way sounds stiff. I pay attention to choices like that, not wanting to lose readers as I might, say, were I to go off on a tangent.)
Back to this notion of time from T.S. Eliot’s mind. The first sentence? What comes to mind is a river, how no two moments are the same. Now comes and is gone; the present sweeps past, and the future promises more of the same.
Once, I spent a month discovering a river — the entire length of the Catawba River — for an article. I was on a deadline and had dozens of stops to make along its 225 miles. Despite the pressures faced by any journalist (accuracy, word counts, editors), the river kept me company throughout the process. It soothed me and made writing its story almost effortless. I’m grateful I got that assignment. Rivers have always mesmerized me, but it wasn’t until after traveling the Catawba that I came to understand their connection with time.
(Notes on the writing process for my students: I drafted this over 45 “writing minutes” — perhaps 15 minutes in, my son needed a ride to Chik-fil-A. I returned, wrote some more, then looked outside. The National Weather Service website reported 80 degrees. I eyed my watches (minus wristbands – watches stand the test of time, wristbands do not). It is now early afternoon, Labor Day. This post will go unfinished now, but I’ll return, edit and create a conclusion another time. After all, all time is unredeemable. If I stay seated, I’ll wonder why I didn’t get outside. “What might have been” will become “a perpetual possibility / Only in a world of speculation.”