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The Elasticity of Time, the Rigidity of Patience

Albert Einstein once said,

Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. How on earth can you explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love? Put your hand on a stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with that special girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.

Our concept of time is, essentially, illusory. In this respect it is not very different than anything else – our perception of space is no less malleable and theoretical, and our understanding of each other is even less substantive. We are all, essentially, making things up as we go along. We are trying to appreciate the Mona Lisa through a keyhole.

The other day a student of mine started complaining about public transportation, bemoaning how long it took her to travel from her house to school. This struck a nerve with me; I laid into her. “If you hate it so much, why don’t you drive?” I asked.

“It’s so expensive and so hard to park around here!”

I grimaced. “Then stop complaining.”

People claw their eyes out at this symbol, as though they have somewhere to be or something.

People claw their eyes out at this symbol, as though they have somewhere to be or something.

It was harsh of me. I probably shouldn’t have given her so much crap about what is, essentially, an innocuous complaint so commonplace as to be almost cliché. Everybody bitches about the MBTA. Never mind that it is the cheapest, most convenient, and most reliable form of transportation in Boston outside of a bicycle or your feet. Rain, snow, hot, cold, the T gets you there for a substantially smaller amount of money than anything else. It’s slow and uncomfortable and sometimes you get delayed or stuck in a tunnel. Sometimes it takes you 90 minutes to travel five miles and sometimes you have to stand on a cold platform in the winter with a crying baby and curse the inefficiencies of the system.

But it costs you less than $70 a month (or less!), you never get a parking ticket, and if it breaks down, you aren’t stick with the repair bill. Nobody can steal it, you don’t care if its interior is scuffed up, it rarely gets in an accident, you never have to gas it up, it’s good for the environment, and, if it breaks down, somebody comes along in a bus to take you where you’re going without you needing to do anything.

All you need to do is wait.

Modern society is terrible at waiting. Terrible. We are incredibly, stupendously spoiled when it comes to getting what we want, when we want it. I’m as guilty of this as anybody. If a website takes more than thirty seconds to load, I probably won’t bother looking at it. If my pizza takes more than 45 minutes to arrive at my front doorstep, I get pissed off.

This decline (and I do think it is a decline) is a side-effect of advanced technology. We are so used to having our demands met, we are frustrated when they aren’t. We bustle about, chained to our wristwatches (ah, I’m dating myself here – our smartphones, excuse me), so convinced that if we are ten minutes late to (wherever) that this somehow represents a failure of the world worthy of vocal and elaborate disdain.

Certainly, punctuality is important and respectful of others – if you are late, apologies should be in order and we must take measures to prevent habitual tardiness lest we tarnish our own self-image. We must remember, however, that the world is not always at our command. How arrogant of us to assume that a regional rail network will instantly obey our travelling whims. How petty of us to condemn a website for it’s inability to instantly react to our commands. I might regale you here with tales from yesteryear, but consider this: how many more paragraphs of this blog post are you willing to read? I’m betting it’s not much more than three. I will finish this well shy of 1000 words, but most of you have already started skimming. Why?  You lack patience. Go and look at a 19th century novel. Weigh it in your hands. Consider that what you are holding was likely considered ‘light reading’. Reflect.

Nothing has taught me patience quite like the act of writing. I send things out into the world, and I wait. I cannot badger editors to respond to me, as much as I wish to. I cannot push publication schedules any faster than they will move. I must simply bide my time and reap my harvests when they ripen. For all its aggravation, there is wisdom in this.

I worry for us. I worry for a species that cannot or will not read more than 1000 words on any subject. That seems to imply that there is nothing – no concept, no work of art – that cannot be encompassed by 1000 words. If such exists, we do not wish to see them. We live forever with our hand on the hot stove and forget the long, silent gaze of a world as special as any woman.