I was sitting on the train platform today, staring off into the distance of tracks waiting for the train to come. No train. Yet. Then I looked down at the tracks in front of me. A glass bottle sitting. Waiting. It might shatter when the train arrives. Then I look off into the distance of tracks that I will soon hurtle down. And then… for a brief, fleeting moment, I am a philosopher, scientist, astrophysicist, mathematician, and poet. So is life. The train track is quite possibly the most obvious symbol of the existence of time. And the platform is where we live our lives. At some point or another, the train comes hurtling into the station. We get on the train, and are whisked off to another platform where we await another vehicle to come down another line of existence.
So time travel exists. All time always exists in all places. It’s just a question of which tracks and trains we make our homes for fleeting moments.
It occurred to me today that there is an entire pantheon of books that I have not read.
And at some point or another, I will read some of them.
They exist at varying points in the past. They will exist – stretching indefinitely – into the future. And at some fortuitous point, we will intersect in a literary space-time nexus. These books exist in the past, present, and future. And when I pick one up to read it, I will inevitably travel through time.
I was thinking all this in the course of ten minutes or so as I waited for a train back to New York from Chappaqua. Two different worlds existing at two different speeds. No wonder I feel nauseous when I get off the train at Grand Central. I was thinking all of this as I sat, waiting for a train, holding a book in my hand. A book I have never read. Up until that point.
The night before, in a bookstore where I gave express instructions to my companions not to let me spend money on books (I have something of an uncontrollable literary fetish), I picked up Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. I’ve never read it. But I’ve been meaning to. A work of the past, it existed in the future for me.
And so, today, on the track, I was whisked into the future, or the past of this book came forward to me, as I opened it and began to read.
Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time…
All moments, past, present, and future always have existed, always will exist.
There are eerie moments in life. Slightly beyond coincidence, but most certainly not nearing fate. In between, there exists a plane of eeriness that is loaded with meaning and significance. Eerie that I would ponder such time travel literally seconds before opening a book that focuses on it.
Can it be said that it was fate that I should buy that book and choose to read it on that train platform at that moment in time? If it was, then the entire notion of choosing which path to travel through time is negated. I’m not a fan. Or can it be said that it was entirely a coincidence? If it was, then there’s no meaning in the crossing of paths. If it’s just chance… there’s no bigger picture.
I’m a fan of the bigger picture. Of trying to see it. Of trying to paint it. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it’s just a little too big. Our field of view is never large enough. It seems we can only ever see just so far in either direction down the tracks.
So not fate that Vonnegut should finally enter my life today. But not coincidence, either.
Something in between.
What is that something in between? I suppose that’s what Sartre, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Plato, Kerouac, and Dostoyevsky are doing on my bookshelf. Trying to figure out what’s in between.