Final Thoughts

In our second-to-last class, we discussed what an average person’s timeline of life would look like and what someone would feel at various points in their life. While this is virtually impossible – everyone has different experiences and any two lives can be completely different – I thought the class did an admirable job trying to sketch out “the average life” while we then discussed and talked about all the way in which “the average life” does not exist. I would like to look at this, however, from a more narrow point of view, one that magnifies the average life for a smaller group.

For example, if you have issues with mental health, the “average life” argument goes out the window. Your “average life” is lived 15 minutes at a time, with little accomplishments like waking up and eating breakfast celebrated with similar excitement as graduating high school or college. I know because I’ve been there, and I do not wish to go into further detail. That being said, this and other issues can warp and alter someone’s sense of time permanently. Also, for many of us, the traditional lifespan is something that we would rather not think about; at least this is true in my life. I’m trying to get through today, and when your mindset is this fixed, it’s hard to think past that day.

That being said, it’s interesting to sit down and map out how someone feels at various points in their life. At this point, most of us are feeling anger and anxiety towards a system that has us stressed out and begging for answers. However, for most of us, emotions are not static, and we have the same capacity to feel good emotions as bad. We don’t have to be stuck in a certain state if we don’t want to; ultimately, how we feel should come from inside of us and not external sources.

Time and Trauma

What measurements of time should we have for those suffering from serious diseases or those who have gone through trauma? For these individuals, time is significantly altered, warped or, worst of all, nonexistent. That was the main takeaway I had after Nindyo’s class towards the end of the semester, that victims of trauma and those suffering from other physical pain have a significantly altered sense of time. For example, someone with dementia has a much weaker sense of time than someone with their senses fully intact. Because of this insidious and terrible disease, it is tough for someone with it to get their hands around time and the daily norms of society. The same is true for people with Parkinson’s.

I have had distant relatives suffer from dementia, and even though their fight was painful, I distinctly remember one significantly light-hearted moment. It was at Christmas, with my great grandmother and my great aunt, both of whom struggled with the disease in their final years. As they communicated across the room to each other, one realized that they were forgetting something. The other exclaimed that all she wanted was a good Easter. While this was a moment many of us laughed at, it was a living example of just how skewered time can be to someone who has this awful disease. Because of it, the mere sense of time and date can change by the minute, and it did for my two relatives, both of whom have since passed.

I also believe, after learning what we did in Nindyo’s class, that victims of trauma must experience something similar. There are two versions of someone who goes through a major traumatic event: the person from before and the person after. The date and time of the trauma is something that victims remember vividly; that’s why someone like Christine Blasey Ford, in her recounting of an unwanted sexual encounter with Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh, can remember events from nearly 40 years ago like they happened yesterday. While I am not as familiar with the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on individuals, I do believe that the repeating of the stressful event, as well as how much it can sear itself into one’s conscience, can warp someone’s understanding of time.

“Shorter of Breath, And One Day Closer to Death…”

I thoroughly enjoyed Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life”, in which he talks about death and dying. Essentially, in that article, he says that every day, we get slightly closer to death and closer to the end of our lives. This makes our lives seem futile and our actions, particularly the more mundane ones, unimportant. It makes everything we do seem meaningless because in the end, all we do is live and die. Of course, this is not what Seneca is arguing, but his attitude on this subject certainly makes it seem as though that should be our attitude. And frankly, it’s hard not to feel that way when faced with the question of what our lives actually mean. But let me argue why it is important to live lives of honor and dignity, and to perform good works while we are here.

A life spent effectively and usefully is one that will be remembered for years after that person dies. The quickest way to be remembered positively is to perform good and moral works, whether these be for charity or merely for a person in need of your assistance. Even though life may seem meaningless while you are living, but if you live the right way, you can make a meaningful and lasting impression upon others. After all, life is most meaningful for the relationships we cultivate and are able to keep, and the substantial contributions we can make with others can be enough to outlast the pain and suffering that comes with each and every life well-lived.

This also leads into another question I would like to ask about suicide and lives cut short. If you are tragically taken from us or decide to end your own life prematurely, what would that mean to Seneca? And how would we measure your time? In my opinion, the measurement of time and the “closeness to death” idea would become completely altered and obsolete at this point. If you take your own life, you are also choosing to end its meaninglessness and suffering. You are choosing that the pain you are currently feeling outweighs the resources you have to fight it, and therefore, you can’t go on. However, you are also cutting off some of the meaningfulness and purpose of your life. The moral of the story is this: your life has meaning. You matter. And, despite what some, like Seneca, may say, being one step closer to death doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of life.

What Does Time Mean to You?

We have had many a fascinating discussion of the different monuments of time in this class. From a Buddhist monk ringing a bell at the mark of various important times to the Fordham clock tower to even a monument like Big Ben in England, there are many famous monuments of time in the world. These physical monuments that tell us what time it is – or, in other cases, why that time is important –  have special meaning in our lives. These meanings are different for everyone, and I hope to flesh out these meanings even more in this blog post.

For example, what does the Fordham clock tower mean? For some, it could just mean a very loud indication that an hour has passed since the last time it went off. For others, it could be a larger symbol of the passage of time and the slow erosion of yet another day, one merely indicated by the hours that tick by every 60 minutes. However, both of these meanings can be equally true. For some, the clock tower, like other true indicators of time, could be a long-standing symbol of authority, a true, accurate bastion of accuracy in a world slowly becoming more full of inaccuracies. In such a world, a clock tower can hold a new significance because its accuracy is more of an outlier than it is previously.

And, additionally, in such a world, people want to find something they can authoritatively and unquestionably look to for clarity. In a world of digital clocks, old-fashioned ones like Fordham has and the one on top of Big Ben turn the clock backwards. In a world of questioned facts and confusion, clocks provide real, unquestionable answers. This may not seem important to everyone, but traditional clocks are a symbol of accuracy. And even when they’re wrong, they’re still right twice a day.

Visual Representations of Time

In this portion of the course, we got into the visual representations of time. One of my favorites was a comic regarding this subject, in which one of the characters observed that “in learning to read comics, we all learned to perceive time spatially.” Comics are one of the most fascinating ways in which we can observe time, and perhaps even more relevantly, comics are an indicator of the change between generations. While our parents grew up on Charlie Brown and Calvin and Hobbes, we grew up on television and video games to stipulate our senses in this manner. This is yet another symbol of the rate of change of our technologies and how far we have come just in the span of one generation.

This leads to another interesting point about visual time, which is that there are many different forms and representations of visual time. Some are obvious – the wrinkles on a face or the grey hairs around out, coupled with someone’s physical signs of age. Others, less so – a physical newspaper instead of online articles or an older person choosing to write something down with a pen and paper instead of typing it. My point is that visual representations of time are all around us, but perhaps this entire class has been a visual representation of time. Perhaps just these four months have been their own visual representations of time, with all of us going through ups and downs, changes in our lives, and changes in the weather.

So when we think of visual representations of time, some of us will think of the obvious and more narrowly-defined representations, while others among us will think more existentially about these representations. We should be thinking about all things, in some form or another, as visual representations of the too-rapid passage of time, and this could include literally everything. Of course, the more narrow definition of a visual representation, such as a comic, is not necessarily wrong. However, we should try to make this definition much wider in scope, and by thinking of everything as fitting into this category, we can do so immediately.

The Souls of African-Americans

One of the best readings in the entirety of this class was DuBois’ excerpt on the souls of African-Americans. Specifically, DuBois asks questions that are outside the realm of conversation for most of us, including what it means to be African-Americans in a society that doesn’t favor you and what identity means within that characterization. Early on in his passage, DuBois asks a very specific, pointed and frightening question: “how does it feel to be a problem?” Of course, he is not asking this question from his own point of view but rather that of white people, many of whom, particularly in the southern portion of the United States, had their slaves emancipated just years before. This identity crisis undoubtedly played a role in DuBois’ writing.

This writing is so fascinating to me because I have never had DuBois’ experience – that is, of being a problem. My race of people always thought of itself as the “solution” when in reality, it was actually part of the problem. People like DuBois were seemingly tortured, harassed and treated as less-than-equal since the beginning of their existence, and to an extent, they were made to feel as though their complete identity had to do with being treated as the inferior race. This, of course, was by design, and for many years, whites were able to get away with making minorities feel like they were born as a problem. This is why DuBois has to confront this sad reality in his writings; the group of people he belonged to was being treated illegitimately, as the problem.

DuBois also brings up another interesting point, which is the importance of songs in the reclamation of the black identity. This is still true today, as genres like hip hop and rhythm and blues have helped reshape and revolutionize African-American identity. However, let’s remember why music was so important to these people. While whites relied on folk music and oral tradition to reliably pass stories and heritage onto their descendants without incident, African-Americans routinely had their identities questioned by the very people who were supposed to protect them. Therefore, self-identity became an important tool for minorities to reclaim a strong sense of self. In this case, it was no different; DuBois is merely talking about how people like him used music in a positive way. In this sense, though, it was more than just occupational; it was necessary.

Symbols of Evolution

There are some old methods of measuring time, separate from standard clocks, that fascinate me. However, one of them that I had not thought about – and I still don’t know why – was tree rings and dendrochronology. Dendrochronology is the study of tree dating and the growth of rings in trees to study how old they are. Dendrochronologists, according to the University of Arizona, use tree rings to answer questions about the natural world and the place of humans in its functioning. However, this seemingly simple study can tell us a lot more about the natural world than we may have been able to previously imagine.

Around us, every day, we can see symbols of the world’s evolution. Many of these are obvious; smartphones, electric cars, Apple Watches, televisions, etc. However, another clear symbol of evolution, or lack thereof, is trees, which have been around for as long as humans have existed. Dendrochronology can play a significant role in studying this evolution because trees are a symbol of how far we have come. Dendrochronology is also an interesting study because it can tell us things about the environment, like how trees were weathered over time and how external changes in climate have affected the trees’ overall health. With the environment gradually warming over the last 200 years – which also serves as a prescient indicator of time – trees can serve as a symbol of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

In summation, trees can give us a sense of where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. An accurate understanding of our past is so important because if we do not understand our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Trees are such an accurate, unfailing representation of our history. It is also fascinating to study these natural phenomena of the universe, like trees, because we can also gain an appreciation for how much different our understanding of time would have been in a different era. If we were born in the 1800s, for example, how much slower would our lives have been? And how much different would we have lived our lives? These are all questions that must be considered, but one of the places we can look to for the answers, believe it or not, is a tree.

The Meaning of America Is Different for Everyone

One of the most interesting readings in this class was one I only got the chance to read after I transferred in: “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes. In this poem, Hughes reminds us that not everyone is free and until everyone is, America is not the land of the free, per se. Thus, America cannot be considered as such until it fulfills the same promise for all of its citizens. This leads into an interesting discussion of time and how different people can have very different conceptions of it.

For one, I found Hughes’ point of view on this subject to be fascinating, considering that he was one of the first popular African-American poets our country has ever had. I also wanted to focus this post on the important discussion of what time means to those who are enslaved. To me, this is similar to the discussion we had with Natalie Reynoso about what time means to those who are incarcerated. These are somewhat similar ideas, even though the scope of slavery was far more drastic, severe and damaging. However, for those who were slaves, time was a very different idea – being owned by someone else meant that you were either waiting for each day to end or waiting for your first opportunity to flee or to try to become free via other means. Significant life events – graduations, marriage, the birth of children – either could not be celebrated like others celebrated them or, worse, could not take place at all.

Worst of all, enslaved African-Americans couldn’t live “normal” life spans, with different phases of life like the ones we talked about in later classes. There were no periods of angst, happiness or restlessness; while these periods occurred internally, they were sadly marked by the ownership of others. I believe that it is very difficult to experience time if someone else owns it for you, and like the institution of slavery, slave masters unfortunately owned the time of their servants. Sadly, like everything else in their lives, their time, both in the micro and macro senses, was owned by someone else with more fortune and privilege. This is America’s ultimate sin, and the stealing of slaves’ time is perhaps America’s ultimate sin.