Posted by: Peadar Ban | July 9, 2015


A few days ago on Facebook, which I sometimes think of as a cross between the corner bar without either the beer or the stale beer smell and “hanging on the corner watching all the world go by”**, one of my FB friends, a Catholic priest, asked us this question, “What is time?”  It’s a good bar room question,and so, while leaning back in the chair on my deck on a sunny morning, taking a sip of tea, I wondered about it.

What is it anyway?  Ticks on a clock?  Wrinkles in the mirror?  Faded photographs of The Old Man and his buddies playing softball in the park by the river have a hundred years ago? Homer, Alexander, the rest of the the Greeks and stone strewn sand wastes in Iraq, and trying to make sense of it all?

I don’t remember the fellow’s name, but I do remember the story I read some years ago, a story in a real magazine, on real slick magazine paper, about the physicist, I think, who theorized that time was not this smoothly flowing river we think it is.  He wanted us to think about time as a series of discreet events, like the succession of cards in a deck we might see as we flipped through them, or the images on a strip of film.  What’s more, he said, theses cards and pictures don’t go away.  They are still there; not in our memory, but “really” there…cards put back in their box, film rolled back on the reel.  If so, the fellow went on, we should, we may, be able to go back, to re-enter time somewhere along the way.  Theoretically, of course.  Of course. I thought too of the cards at the other end of the deck, the ones not yet flipped.  What were the pictures on them? Could we suddenly appear in the middle of the room at our great, great, great grand son’s graduation?

Really.  I mean are not space and time linked? And, if so, as each moment passes, or waits its turn, am I not linked in some wonderfully strange way to everything, everywhere? Pardon me I told the tea cup and the trees. I’m going thinking to see what, where and who is around.  And, I didn’t need a passport, or have to take off my shoes.  It was a great question..

Then, an hour or so later, when I’m on my second cup of tea, and the birds are singing sweetly (when they aren’t squawking at each other over the stuff in the feeder) another friend on FB asks another serious bar room question.  He wants to know the answer to the question: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Well, duh, is my immediate reaction to a question like that.

But, I had already gotten my brain working, and since this fellow is some kind of professor somewhere, I sense a trick.  I went inside and buttered myself a piece of toast, and thought deep thoughts as the toast absorbed the half-pound of butter I ladled onto it..  And, I thought about how to keep a brother.  I literally have one of them, you know.  He’s older than me, and he may be getting ready to leave, to exit this mortal coil, whatever that means, and pass beyond the Space-Time continuum. Whatever that means.

Both questions merged.  They have a way of doing that, questions do.

And, while I was thinking about all of that, the problem of keeping my brother, and the Space-Time thing, and butterflies in the Amazon, and what to do with the melted butter at the bottom of the toast plate, I wondered whether we were the only creatures to whom has been given this notion of time passing, and moments never being repeated. I saw a bird, a sparrow, flying over my head earlier as I sat sipping tea on the deck in the back, dark against the lightening sky. And when I looked again at the sky, I could remember what I’d seen, but the bird itself wasn’t there. It and the moment were gone, each wing beat like cards flipped, or frames of film, done and over. Which was the more real?  Of course they were both, but one was gone, gone gone, and the other.  You know I can’t even say it was happening right now, because everything, well, everything just happened.  So I was left with this…

What do I “keep” as I pass the moments by sipping tea on a Monday morning. In the first instance, I keep a memory of that bird, a picture of its silhouette against the morning sky, and its swift moving wings. I’m thinking now of a great hall of memories behind my eyes; really a jumble pushed in every which way for 73 years. Birds and other beasts react, but we can think and plan..and “keep”, possess, and protect. Is that why there’s “Time” in addition to Space?

And now I think about Adam and Eve, and wonder about their Moment, not the one where the first snotty question was asked.  You know the one I mean, “Did God really tell you not to eat of the trees in the Garden?”  No I mean the one that occurred maybe a half hour later; their moment of enlightenment.  The one where they discovered their nakedness and their sin. Maybe it was their first moment of consciousness. Should he have said something to her, reminded her.  But, nothing like that had ever occurred before.  No one had ever needed to be concerned, watchful, vigilant; worry about traffic or anything else.  There were no Stop signs in Eden.  Well, there was, but, really, no one gave it a second thought.  You know?

This is a poem I wrote about ten years ago, based on that snotty question.


“Must you believe everything He said?”
It was a simple question I suppose,
But attention is something I never paid
To belief; never gave it second thought.
My response to everything was, “Fiat!”
The same word she used who came after me.
What mattered was His word, and that was that.
The question, frankly, I found puzzling.

“What does it mean to ask if I believe?”
“I have your attention then.  Tell me that
You know the way of everything you see.”
“Everything is the way it is.  Why not?”
Was my simple answer.  Why make a fuss?
“Everything,” he said, and left a question
Hanging in the air between us,
And silence as we two walked along.

We passed that place I had passed so often.
He paused and asked me what I though
Of its majesty, beauty and location.
“may we not both stay here a while and rest,
Refresh ourselves in this sweet place and take
Our ease?  We may just find something to eat
Among the trees and sit beside the lake.”
I saw no harm in resting, but said, “Wait,

Friend, and we will be filled with all good things.
A feast is spread each evening when shadows
Fill hollows and myriads of birds sing
A song of parting to daylight’s last glow.”
“But there is so much here.  Is this all no good?”
“Everything is good, but, we never taste
The fruit of this tree.  He has said we would
Die if we do.  We believe what He says.”

“Ah, yes.  You believe.  You trust His word, then?”
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t trust
Him when He tells us something.  Trust has been
The way of it between Him and us.”
“Then help me understand.  is this poison?”
Saying this he took a fruit, “It seems not
To be so and you said, to my recollection,
Everything is good.  If that’s true, then what

Harm could there come to me by eating it?”
He bit and chewed, and swallowed, smiling while
he did this simple thing, and bade me sit.
Too surprised to speak I sat down silent
In the shade of the tree whose fruit he held.
“I don’t think eating this will make me die.
It simply tastes too good to be at all bad.
I think, dear one, you have believed a lie.

I know the difference between bad and good
beleieve me when i say no harm will come to you.”
He reached into the tree from where he stood
And gently took another ripened fruit.
“take this and eat it.  You’ll be satisfied.”
I took and held the globe in my two hands,
Evidence of his words before my eyes.
I trusted, ate, began to understand.

And, now as evening turns to darkest night
Remorse has seized my heart from that first bite

March 9, 2005

Did time start there? And, with it did that sense of responsibility that might be called “keeping”; brothers, laws, commandments and trust? Do butterflies matter? Silly questions seem to.

** The original lyrics to the song were “Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by.” a hit song by a group of guys named The Four Lads whom I saw perform at Carnegie Hall in one of the last concerts where no one was smoking dope.:


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