You have heard of the Bermuda Triangle, where ships and planes mysteriously disappear? Well I am momentarily lost in a time-distance triangle.
As I write this week, I am in my room on the seventh floor of a hotel somewhere in West Philadelphia (we arrived in the dark so I don’t know what the neighborhood looks like from the ground). Outside my door are unfamiliar voices speaking languages I do not understand and, I think, a loud television blaring from a room with an open door that housekeeping must be cleaning.
Only moments before I returned from the “free” breakfast on the third floor of the hotel where I became absorbed in a newspaper article while eating oatmeal (they didn’t have any milk). It was about Russia and China believing the United States and European democracies are now weak and absorbed in cultural and political crisis, and so they are making military moves against their weaker neighbors in a way that has not been done in the eighty years of Pax Americana – an American forced peace.
The third point of the time-distance triangle is me back in my room hearing all the commotion around me, trying to write something worthwhile for the Finger Lakes Times back in Geneva, New York. But I am also multitasking with side conversations via Messenger and email, with classmates from the Muncie Burris High School Class of 1972. You can count the years and guess what we are in conversation about.
Let’s just recap. In the space of a few short minutes, and within the limits of four floors in a high rise hotel, my mind and attention have traveled vast distances between here and Russia, China, and Europe with a live soundtrack of languages from many continents. At the very same moment, my mind has traversed time itself — transported by a yearbook photo of my third grade class on Facebook, another from senior year in high school, all while responding to messages from people I have not seen in fifty years. In short, I am being pulled through a long tunnel of time while dragged across vast distances and all as I sit here writing you.
This is hardly unique to me in this moment. All of us are dragged across distances we have never traveled, and shoved down wild water rides of memory when we least expect it. I wonder how different this is for us than for those who came before?
In the sixteenth century, for instance, no one knew what was happening five miles down the road let along across the world in real time. Likewise, friends of many distances were in fact distant, and any message from them would be days if not weeks or months after the fact. Does shortening distance and bridging time distort our sense of reality, causing us to imagine we have more influence on the events unfolding around us? Or does it increase our anxiety by knowing the depths of our powerlessness?
Meanwhile, in the midst of these deeply philosophical questions, at one and the same time I can travel to see my daughter and her family, write a column for my hometown newspaper, and catch up with people whose freckles turned to age spots since I saw them last. How great is that?