The lil’ monkey and I are talking about time. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; yesterday, today, tomorrow. Past, present, future. It grew out of a quip I’d made. I had asked her to clean up a mess she’d made, and she said — brace yourself for a shock here — “I’ll do it tomorrow!”
I reply with something wise that had once been told me. “Tomorrow never really happens, punkin! Once we get to tomorrow, it’s today. And today will have become yesterday, and the day after tomorrow is what tomorrow is. You follow?”
I stiffle the perverse urge to blurt out “Third base!” since I knew we had a chance of making some progress on the core concepts. (Abbot and Costello aficionados, this-a-way, please.)
She says it’s a little confusing, but thinks it’s hard to understand mostly because I’m standing at the other end of the room. I agree, and also suggest it might help to see the ideas with her eyes. So I come closer, and grab a few objects with which to demonstrate: some coasters, some paper, and a few colored pens. (Thus.)
She watches me shuffle the objects around like a Times Square shell game huckster, and I pepper her with a small herd of Socratic questions. She watches, she ponders, she answers, and ultimately she is satisfied with her knowledge of time. For the time being. (“It’s all relative!” I conclude, triumphantly.) For my part, since I am the person time forgot, it’s less the time stuff and more the conceptual stuff I’m interested in. And she clearly has the conceptual stuff down.
A few moments later, over tea, we review and reflect on our mini-tutorial.
“The Buddhists spend a lot of time talking about how important it is to pay attention to the present, to what’s happening right now,” I say, never one to overlook an opportunity to slip in another a wee homily. It’s Muzak, perpetually on the parent channel.
She looks up thoughtfully over her mini-teacup of peppermint tea. “Why?”
“Well, that’s all we ever have. This moment,” and I gesture with my hands to indicate one spot in time. “And then this moment.” Then I scootch a bit to the side to indicate a sequence. “And then this one. But that’s what we have. What’s in the past and in the future are largely in our imaginations.” I kind of believe that, and kind of don’t. Or I do, but with conditions. But our tutorial today is in broad strokes.
Then the girlie ups and paraphrases what I was about to say next.
“If you’re afraid of the future,” she says, “you’re afraid of nothing at all. You don’t know what the future is unless you have a crystal ball to tell it in.”
“Have you ever met anyone who had one?” I ask, leading a bit. (Don’t tell her, but a wee Wizard of Oz-ish crystal ball is part of an elaborate, custom gift coming her way in about a week.)
“No,” she says, soberly. “But I can tell the fake future.” She gets up and goes over to the utensil drawer. “I can tell the fake future using metal objects like this spoon.”
She carefully places the spoon to her forehead and faux-divines, in that elongated-vowel, spooky-mysterious voice that comes so naturally after the words abracadabra.
“In the fuuuuture,” she intones, “everything is going to be smaller than it is now.”