I write urgent pleas to a future me, begging him to tell me that it gets better, that we make it through, that tomorrow will hurt less than today.
I reply from a later time. Writing letters to the scared and lonely person that I was just days, weeks, years, or even moments before this one. I temper honesty with compassion, and I try to answer.
I tell him that almost nothing ever gets easier, but resilience is a muscle. Persistence is a skill.
Not everything gets better, but some things do.
Some hurts will hurt less. Some will hurt the same. For better or for worse, you’ll find new hurts everyday. But, you’re still here. You’re ok.
Nick Cave says that “joy exists both in the worst of the world and within the best”. That it “often finds its true voice within its opposite”. That “Joy sings small, bright songs in the dark”. The books you’re reading, the words you’re writing, the things you’re making, everything you do, it makes a difference, it adds up, it helps to soothe. Every effort matters. It’s worth it. I promise.
Time “is not like a river, flowing in one direction,” Madeleine L’Engle says, it is “more like a tree”. We are rooted to a place in time, but we can grow above it. We can stretch past it. In a broad and reaching advance of branches branching beyond branching, we live across it.
We think that the past is somewhere different. Somewhere we’ve left behind. A place we used to be. We think that the future is something far off and away. Someplace way out there, but it isn’t. It’s all still right here.
Carlo Rovelli says that “the difference between the past and the future refers only to our own blurred vision of the world.” Nothing escapes the gravitational pull of the present and that includes both the future and the past.
Everything that has ever happened, everything still to come, everyone that has ever lived, everyone that ever will, every person you’ve ever been, every person you will be, are always within reach, always ready at hand. None of it ever leaves. The present keeps pulling it along, reaching back and out and forward and pulling it all to ‘here’.
And yet, even after countless admonitions to be present, here is the place we still struggle to appreciate being. The problem is not one of distance, but of density.
For most of us the present lacks potency, lacks profundity, because we have narrowed the moment to a sliver. We have made it into something confined.
It’s true that “Our ‘present’ does not extend throughout the universe”, that “It is like a bubble around us”, says Carlo Rovelli, but we can control its circumference. We can seek to increase its diameter.
To live more fully across time is to increase, one’s “personal density”. It is to increase the mass of the moment, to broaden the breadth of nearness and immediacy, to recognize the overwhelming extent of our “temporal bandwidth” that is always available right here. It is to recognize the tremendous width of now. “The more you dwell in the past and in the future”, Thomas Pynchon says, “as they exist in the here and in the now, the thicker the density of your here-ness, the more solidity will be added to who you are.” You can transform your locality into a range of amplitude.
Books, and writing, and art are what help to connect us to a breadth beyond where we are. Drawn deeper into the Tao of all there is. “Thoughts and emotions that create bonds of attachment between us have no difficulty in crossing seas and decades, sometimes even centuries,“ says Rovelli. “We are part of a network that goes far beyond the few days of our lives and the few square meters that we tread.”
We can live on both sides of something created. Communicate with those who are in either direction. We can be guests at the table of thinkers past. Invite others yet present to sit at our own. Become students of those who have gone. Pose questions to those who have not yet arrived.
“We are not meant to be as separated as we have become from those who have gone before us, those who will come after”, writes L’Engle. Nor are we meant to be separated from ourselves. You are every previous version of yourself reborn simultaneously. You are every unfathomable future self that you have yet to be.
Everything we make is a time capsule holding secret messages garnered from the past, written to the future. The infinity of possibilities of who we might one day be. All within this moment. Everything, right here.
We can speak to all our renditions across and behind the meridian of a text. Both the forgone and the forthcoming. Everything, all at once.
This is what it means to grow in depth and breadth and maturity. It “consists”, Thomas Traherne says, “in not losing the past while fully living in the present with a prudent awareness of the possibilities of the future”.
This what you’ve done. This is what you’re doing. This what you are. Who you were. And, who you will be.
This is what I tell myself. This is what I’m telling you.
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