Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Passage of Time

As body of water recedes, the aquatic life is left without an environment. As time goes on, the remains calcify and help transform the ground into rock.

Acid rain falls to the exposed ground and is soaked in by the newly formed limestone. The acidic water trickles down into the cracks and slowly eats away at the relatively soft rock.

Over millions of years later, an eight mile cave forms.

I sit beside my seventy-one year old mom as we beheld the product of that wonderful phenomena. We traveled 400 miles to visit our hometown-- to visit old landmarks, old friends, and family members from far way. Between visits with friends and family, we stopped to admire this amazing monument of nature.

As we sat there, my mom tells me about how she met my dad there at the cave. Live bands played during parties which were held at the entrance of the cave. A concession stand used to be there and a popular hotel and swimming pool were once nearby. A wide open space in front of the cave seemed to provide a naturally made dance floor. This cave was a happening place decades ago. My future dad asked for my soon-to-be mom's phone number during one of these popular dances.

Since I probably wouldn't exist if my parents never met, this cave somehow felt like my true birth place (as opposed to the hospital that was only a few miles away).

I wondered what fossils were inside this cave. Were there any cave drawings? (I found out later that the cave does contain drawings and glyphs.) I wondered how the trees on top of the cave entrance stayed in place. Were the roots inside all of that rock? How did the trees and other vegetation survive being rooted in the shallow dirt resting on top of rock?

I wondered how many millions of years were represented by the exposed strata of limestone. The layers were reminiscent of rings from a tree stump; these neat slabs of rock were reveling the timelessness of our Earth.

I placed my hand upon the rock and knew that I had touched millions of years.

I touched the passage of time.


Something similar happened when I visited the church from my childhood. Youthful people that I watched as a child had now become elderly. Silver hair had replaced the once dark hair. Sunken cheek bones replaced the full, round youthful faces that I once remembered.

New faces from the upcoming generation were taking charge of the church now. The pastor of thirty years had passed away now. I was a little child when I watched him preach Sunday after Sunday. But he's gone now and another youthful face has come to fill his shoes.

I was handed a visitor's card when I sat down in the pew. I didn't know what to do with it. After all, I don't plan to come back-- I'm no longer religious. Also, the church is 400 miles away from where I currently live. This is just a vacation with my mom and son. Also, I grew up at that church; I went there decades ago. I sat right there in that pew, about 3 decades ago-- Sunday after Sunday for years.

Then I look over at my mom to see if she wanted to fill out a visitor's card. She looks so different now. Not the same youthful woman that I sat beside when I was a little boy in church. Then I observe my own son sitting beside my mom as I once did.

After service, everyone (who remembered me) commented on how my son looked just like me. Just like when I was a child.

Then I realized that I was witnessing first hand the passage of time.


While in my hotel room, I decide to catch up on some reading. I brought some recent National Geographic issues with me on our trip. All of them featured something from the ancient past. I read the article about the Ice Baby that was found in superb condition. I caught up on the article about the Sicilian mummies preserved from only a few centuries ago. I looked at their faces with amazement. Some of them only have skulls for faces. Others look as though they are only asleep and could wake at any moment. Others look as though they are already turned into dust. Yet somehow, they still maintain human faces and hair on their heads. Their sunken cheeks look hauntingly familiar. They bare the cheek bones of my aging loved ones. I will have them too, should I live long enough to develop them.

When I took in all of these experiences, I wondered what happens to us after we die. Where do we go? What happens to our consciousness?

Looking back at aged and lost loved ones gives us a hint. Peering back into the passage of time at mummies, fossils, caves, and exposed limestone strata seems to give an answer that constantly haunts humanity.

Given enough time, we simply become one with this Earth.

Rather than be filled with glum, I walk away with these experiences eager to make better of my life-- starting today.

I want to ensure that the passage of time that will encompasses my life truly counts.
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