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W a i t i n g

This is a post I wrote weeks after graduating college and I think it applies to my current state of transition. Perhaps you will find something relatable in it, too…

Whilst I was reading Anderson’s introduction to Heidegger’s Discourse On Thinking the notion of an ontological “waiting,” struck a chord in me. Being in a bit of a personal limbo between college and whatever else life has to offer made this notion call to me loudly; too loudly to ignore. We, qua humans, wait in line, in traffic, at bus stops, to order food, to get a job, to fall in love, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Is the time between waiting for this and waiting for that spent waiting for something b i g g e r?

A friend once told me she thought it the most human thing to set a goal for oneself and to reach it. Is this time in between goal setting and goal reaching the waiting? If I set the goal for myself to make it to the gym before work and I complete that goal, am I no longer waiting? What if the next item on my agenda is the train ride to work. During this, let’s say forty five minute, train ride am I waiting to get to work? Maybe yes, maybe no. If I’m doing the crossword or reading a book on the train then I am doing and not waiting. Or am I still waiting?

Anderson makes a distinction between a shallower “waiting for” and a deeper “waiting upon.” These seemed to me to be not unlike Heidegger’s “Ontic” and “Ontological,” respectively, so is this waiting I’ve been referring to the ontological waiting?

Ontically, I am currently waiting for my laundry to finish. Ontologically, however, I am waiting for _______. It is a blank I have yet to fill in, so for now I must simply say I am still waiting. There is one waiting for which each person waits for all of his or her life, and that waiting is death. This answers the “what,” of the question, for what do I wait upon? But it’s not the whole answer because waiting consists in more than just a what. How am I waiting upon? Who am I waiting upon? When am I waiting upon? Where am I waiting upon? And most interestingly why am I waiting upon? These are the questions worth asking.

Even if I could answer some of these questions, the form of my answers would have to be mutable, for places, people, and feelings all change constantly. To say that today I am waiting happily on myself, in Boston, to finish my laundry hasn’t revealed very much of my waiting, ontologically as it were. And furthermore, these entities would each be different tomorrow because I will be different tomorrow. If even the ontic things change second to second, how am I expected to answer questions about how, when, where, who and why I am waiting in life? How is anyone expected to be able to answer these questions?

Perhaps we aren’t, and perhaps failure to realize that is why people end up at jobs and in relationships with which they are dissatisfied. Maybe I want something today that I’ll no longer want in ten years. In fact, the chances are incredibly high that things I want today I will not want in ten years, so maybe we’re asking the wrong questions of ourselves at this, such an important transitory, time in life.

If the “what” I’m waiting for is death, then what I do for a job doesn’t really make much of a difference. This question, however, is the one people rely the most heavily on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked what I plan on doing now that I’m not in school anymore. I always chuckle to myself because I’m not sure it makes any difference. I am sure, however, that how and why I do things does make a difference. For me, these a r e the questioning of waiting.

Even if I could answer these questions for myself, they would certainly do you no good, as both your questions and your answers are different from mine because your World is different from mine. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to finish this musing with glorious and grandiose answers to this ontological line of questioning but that would undermine my entire argument. How am I waiting? Why am I waiting? The questioning is the answering…

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Einstein’s Dreams

“Each time is true, but not all truths are the same.” – Alan Lightman

This quote from Einstein’s Dreams probably sums up the book better than I can, although that won’t stop me from trying. I enjoyed this book so thoroughly and I could genuinely recommend it to anyone, particularly those with a particular interest in the concept, or concepts, of time.

The beauty of this novel, as with life, is in the details. The man who “sits at his bedside table, listens to the sounds of his running bath” is someone I can relate to, he’s someone who I know, he’s someone I’ve been. The descriptions Lightman paints with his words are transportive. When this man wonders, “whether anything exists outside of his mind,” I, too, am wondering.

With each ultra-brief chapter, this book introduces the reader to a new world with a conception of time all its own. Interspersed with this is the story of a young Einstein developing his theory of time. Both Einstein’s journey and the journeys of those in each world are revealed in the most delicate of manners. We first lean what plagues the inhabitants of the new world, and from these clues we must determine which world this is. Is it the world where time runs backwards? Or the one where with no future? Or no past?

Each world seems to be tragic in its own way. In one instance there are certain people who cannot perceive time at all. Called “time deaf,” these individuals are considered great minds and are studied by scholars all over the world. “But they are unable to speak what they know, for speech needs a sequence of words, spoken in time.” Every chapter ends abruptly, and then a new conception of time emerges, with new people, in a new place.

One of these places, in particular, stands out for me:

In this world, time is not measured. All watches and clocks are outlawed except for one. This super clock becomes a place of pilgrimage that every person in the world must travel to at some point in their lives. At any given point, there is a line of 10,000 people waiting silently in line to see the clock, but “secretly they seethe with anger. For they must watch measured that which should not be. They have been trapped by their own inventiveness and audacity.”

Yes, we have.

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