Roger Marolt: Because Burnie asked
Our presence in the universe is not noticed except by God, us and maybe our dogs; definitely not by the cats or goldfish. We are insignificant by any measurements of math or science. We say life is short and we are correct. If the history of mankind could be compressed into a 24-hour day, one life would last less than half a second. That’s the first twist of the spiral into nothingness.
This hypothetical one day of humanity’s existence would be on an Earth that is, relatively speaking, about 2 years old. That measly Earth compared with the life of its galaxy renders further perspective blurry. To push the discussion beyond comprehension, the galaxy’s life cannot even be registered in the infinite realm of the universe. Its estimated existence of 14 billion years divided by infinity is approximately zero.
Time can be funny, with the right attitude. We measure it by keeping track of where Earth is relative to the Sun, but that doesn’t accurately jibe with our experiences. Time is precisely measured and meticulously kept track of, yet its substance eludes us. It flies. It drags. It stands still. We lose it. We find it. We take it. We make it. We give our own and take others’. It is of the essence, presumably its own. Does it exist anywhere but here?
A day is long when work is dull and short while lying on a beach with a good novel. A year passes slowly for a child, but goes by so quickly for her parents that they can hardly differentiate it from the last or the next. Time even passes differently for people experiencing the same event. An interesting lecture that ended far too quickly for one can be a never-ending bore for a friend sitting beside.
In the grand scheme of things, which all things are, we all die in the same instant. I find that incredibly comforting. And still, this element of time is what makes loss painful. It is fully comprehensible what acute sorrow is, but nearly impossible to grasp that it is imminently transient. That shortcoming makes us human. The more desperately we embrace the concept of time, the more painful is the sense of loss in everything, from departed loved ones to a smooth face and dark hair to the unblemished exterior of a new car.
I believe time gives us clues about what comes next; beyond this flash of our lives that is so short that it can’t be measured in contrast to eternity and yet is so incredibly important that we dare not take a second for granted.
Time passes practically unnoticed when we are with people we love and focused entirely on them. An hour barely registers. Then we get hungry, or feel a little tired, or maybe sneeze. These things make us aware. Time slows again. They remind us that we need something else — a snack, a nap, an allergy tablet. They are small discomforts that will grow, if not addressed.
Needs guide our existence. There will always be times of suffering, large and small in our lives. The yearnings we don’t need are desires. We can live without them, but we don’t want to. The more we value them, the more it hurts not to have them. When we reach the point that we cannot get away from our desires and we crave them more than anything else and would do anything to get them, we can end up in a constant state of suffering for lack of satisfaction.
I think eternal bliss is hinted at by time that passes without notice. We are undistracted, fully immersed in joy and goodness. We experience pure love and desire nothing. Our Creator has removed all bodily needs. We are in the presence of absolute truth and knowledge which is overwhelmingly compelling for us to remain with. Eternity passes without pain. Time disappears, giving way to perfect happiness and comfort. That’s heaven.
The opposite, of course, is eternal want. It would be the forever condition of being unsatisfied. There is no fire. There are no pitchforks. It is far worse. It is being in a state of want where time stands still. The clock stops. Not a single desire will ever be fulfilled. It’s maddening. It is being aware that a perfectly contented state exists, but is now unattainable. It is a suspended state of constantly desiring something so badly that it torments without relief. That’s hell.
Here is the least weird thing about this theory: There is no predetermined course plotted for us through eternity. We choose it now. We begin to live it here. We cross into the next life on the path of our choice. Those who choose wrongly wail throughout eternity, “All we ever wanted was to be loved!” only to realize that was actually a need.
Roger Marolt likes to think about things besides skiing and City Council meetings occasionally. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.