Saturday, July 15, 2006


When I first emerged from the coma, time took an eternity. That was probably due to the fact that I was transitioning from leading a frenzied life to laying perfectly still on my back all day. I thought I was in the ECU for months; it turned out to be just 22 days, much of which I spent in a coma. I usually lay awake all night, watching the second hand go around to pass the time. Basically, my body was in excellent shape because I had been a health nut, and I just did not need much sleep after lying in bed all day. What I really craved was action of any type - bedbathes, rubdowns, anything. Just try lying perfectly still for a couple days without talking to see what it is like. The only difference is, I had no choice and no way out.

They say the passage of time is relative, and after what I have been through, I couldn't agree more. It has made me reflect. We are used to thinking of some animals as having very short - say a year - lifespans. But to that animal, I doubt it SEEMS short. They are born, know their parents briefly, and spend what must seem like endless days learning about their world before they die. We do much the same thing - only we may know another generation . In the big picture, neither of our lifespans is significant in view of the earth's existence. What, so one lives one/five billionnth years and the other eighty /five billionnths? So what? The best micrometer in the world couldn't tell them apart. What does seem to make a difference is the rate of change - when I first got sick and overniight went from hyperactive to motionless, the passage of time seemed to take FOREVER; but now that I am in a routine again things have reached an equilibrium again. Not that it is the same equilibrium as a normal person - I am used to things taking a long time and so I appear patient to everyone else. I can't put math to it, but the rate at which time appears to pass is inversely proportional to the rate at which things around us change. Remember how days seemed to last forever when we were kids because everything was new to us? And how time flies now that we have established routines? Well, it doesn't take the Earth a shorter period of time to orbit the sun, but our PERCEPTION has changed. I'm not trying to make any grand revelations here, but am just trying to make sense of what happened to me. The more change you allow (Or, as in my case, is thrust upon you), the longer life seems; and the more of a routine you follow, the faster time seems to fly.

Humor me for a minute while I play philosopher. Let's take that one step further. It is hard to conceive of a change more drastic than the one I experienced -one day an overactive father, CFO, and husband; the next day a motionless mute. As a result, time almost stood still while I adjusted to my new reality. That begs the question, how far can you stretch time/space? Now imagine the smallest distance we have measured, the size of some subatomic particle, versus the largest; the distance across the universe, measured in lightyears. There is no reason to believe those represent endpoints-why couldn't we be just be a subatomic particle ourselves in a much larger reality? What is so special about five billion years, the age of our universe, especially if time is so elastic, as it was for me? What came before? What will follow? What happens when there are no heavenly bodies revolving around each other to mark the passage of time? What role does religion play? Above all, if we are just the product of some cosmic accident, why haven't the trillions of stars/solar systems in the universe produced many races like us? Once we answer these questions will the questions stop? Or have we forgotten how important yesterday's questions were, like, does the sun really revolve around the earth, and why can't man fly? It seems to me that religion and science continually struggle to answer these questions, and will never converge. Religion maintains that we are unique and at least momentarily finite, while science refuses to acknowledge anything that can't be routinely repeated. Perhaps this endless struggle defines existence; certainly The Inquisition put as much weight on the questions of the day as we do on today's questions. If this all seems incomprehensible, now you know what it feels like to be able to do nothing but think.

What really brought the elasticity of time into focus was my side yard. I had been landscaping it right before my stroke. When I got home, I wouldn't give up on it. I typed out directions for my kids and my dad. To my surprise, they didn't read them carefully, when they read them at all. It was a good lesson. People don't like to be told what to do, and writing is a terrible medium for urgency. I learned another painful truth - what I used to do in a few minutes now could take weeks or years, if it got done at all. First, I had to find someone actually interested in doing it. Then, I had to get the parts. Then, I had to communicate how to do it. Finally, I had to watch it being done, because very few people follow directions. Without the art of communication, my reality existed only in my head. I soon learned to take what I could get and be happy. Not easy for a perfectionist, but the other choice was to do nothing. The lesson in all of this was that time was suddenly greatly expanded. Say, for example, I wanted to move a board from my driveway, a task that used to take me a few seconds. Now, I have to wait for an opportune time to ask someone to do it- that is, when I am near the wood and they have time to use the Board. This alone might take a week. Odds are they won't do it. I then have to wait for another opportune time and try again, until I get lucky. The whole process might take a month or more. The garden I started before my stroke still isn't done, and it has been four years. I had planned on it taking a few weeks.

OK, one more digression -evolution. While lying there I couldn't help but think about evolution and the passage of time. As helpless and as unattached to the environment as I was, it was hard for me to imagine us arising out of the mud, even given the passage of time. I am not defending creationism; that seems even less plausible. History has a funny way of compressing time. Oh, perhaps the order is right, but certainly the meaning of 'day' is not one Earth orbit around the sun. Remember; they thought the sun revolved around the Earth then. Who knows what Genesis means by 'day's? No, as I lay there I became convinced we just don't know where we came from, at least not in the way we know everyday things. The fossil record indicates that evolution likely played some role, but it does not account for everything. Like why do some species stop evolving -Cockroach - while others keep going -man>? Why haven't many other planets produced life? The biblical accounts of Creation, are very vague, even if they have a grain of truth. No, this whole area calls for our being humble enough to admit we just don't know yet to say exactly what happened, just as many things were shrouded in mystery for years before a completely new perspective revealed a generally plausible answer

. Ok, enough musings; now back on track.

I said before how it can take all morning to get up. My routine is usually this; get ready for the day and get in the wheelchair. Eat brunch - I call it that because eating both takes too long. It is now usually afternoon. I then exercise or sit at my computer for a couple hours (more results in bad posture), before they feed me dinner and then put me back to be, where I watch whatever is on TV until I fall asleep again. Exceptions might be taking a shower or going to the bathroom, either of which takes about two hours. Some days we go into town for therapy or to shop. My favorite thing is to take my electric wheelchair and speaking device into Costco or Home Depot and just look around. That is my life, and is just a stroke away for everyone. Believe it or not, I have come a long way. Some people can't even do this much.


Blogger John Tossot said...

fossils are the sign of earlier animal not "heavens'. read more on what is fossil?

2:38 AM  

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