Friday, February 27, 2015

Childhood's End

     This post will be a bit of a "cross-over episode," as Leonard Nimoy died today at 83. I was saddened by this. Growing up, Star Trek was a companion, a show that formed my imagination, taught me certain values, and gave me some of my first fictional role models. Nimoy, in the television series and the feature films, was always the highlight for me. Spock was a character who was supposed to be alien, but always conveyed a certain wonderful humanity. And so a childhood hero died today.

     Death occupies my thoughts frequently, not just today. Not, I hope, in a morbid way, but because I think it is important for a person to consider their mortality, and let that shape how they live their lives day-to-day. I will die someday, so I ought to live in a particular way right now, keeping that before my eyes. But my senses tend to be dull, as many do, and so I usually forget, and place death in my pocket. When someone dies, someone whose death will affect me in some way, it is always a moment where death stands before me again, and it refreshes my memory: ah, I will die someday.

     So, to tie this in to the hero of this blog, the good Doctor. This is a series that gets to cheat a bit. The protagonist changes actors every few years, "regenerating" into the next incarnation. The obvious reason is that it allows the show to continue on for as long as the ratings are good, because it is not tied to the willingness of an actor to play the character for years upon years. Different people have different Doctor's as their favorites, but when the consistency of the actors remains good (as it has in the reboot series, I think), it is hard not to be attached to all of them. It is sad to see your favorite go (let's here it for the Tenth Doctor!), but it's okay, because it also gives a feeling of expectation, the joyful anticipation of seeing what this next actor will bring to the role. The resurrection of the Doctor is a wonderful thing, as well as sad.

     Spock got to come back from the dead once (Star III: The Search for Spock). Leonard Nimoy will not. He was, for my money, a fabulous actor who played a role well. He's also played other roles well, but none like Spock. Sadness over the loss of a person, whether known personally, or who influenced our lives through their vocations, is normal. Doctor Who gives us another way to think of death, though, one that is filled with more hope. With death comes sadness, but a sadness that then becomes something new, adventurous, a mystery to unravel, an expectation to fill. After death, there is new life.

     As we face our deaths, which will come to each one of us, we don't have to stop with sadness. It doesn't have to be an experience of total fear, or resigned desperation. Our death, as Christians, as ones who will receive a resurrection of our own, is a future of anticipation and mystery, of joy and discovery, of something inexpressibly wonderful. So while the visage of death, having taken Mr. Nimoy, reminds me that I have reached my childhood's end and can no longer ignore my mortality, the fear of death gives way to the hope of eternal life, and sadness gives way to something new. Maybe the question to ask when we approach our deaths ought to be, with hopeful expectation and curious expressions, "What's next?"

Rest in Peace, Leonard Nimoy. And to all the rest, Live Long and Prosper.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Time as Memory

"What then, is time? I know well enough what it is, provided nobody asks me; but if I am asked what it is and try to explain, I am baffled." -St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, XI.14

     Only one post in January...let's blame the intricacies of time, or Daleks, or something. Anyway, some ideas have been brewing on a Christian view of time in my insufficient mind. Rather than start describing time abstractly, I thought I would begin by discussion how we perceive time, or experience time. Often a subject is best approached starting with what we know, so here goes.

     I thought I would start with one of the first truly timey-wimey episodes, "Father's Day."This episode falls right in Series 1 of the reboot, starring the inimitable and underrated Christopher Eccleston, whose only crime was to be followed by David Tennant. I digress. The premise of the episode revolves around his Companion, Rose, who never met her father, as he was hit and killed by a car in 1987. Rose, wanting to see her father, convinces the Doctor to take her back to the day he was killed (why that day I have not been able to wrap my head around, however!). No doubt overwhelmed by the sight of her father, whom she never knew, Rose prevents his death. This of course creates problems of the timey-wimey variety, as the timeline has now been changed. It opens a rift of some kind, and creatures (fairly cheesy ones, but they aren't really the point) terrorize those in the area.

     What I would like to reflect on in regards to this episode is the desire for Rose to see her father. It isn't the logical paradox or physical possibilities of this episode that interest me, thought they are interesting, but the simple desire for memory. In Saint Augustine's Confessions, later in the book he talks about time from human perspective. He points out that time consists of three different aspects: past, present, and future. They have a very complex relationship to one another, which gives us some interesting grist for the mill. The present, as we know it, immediately turns into the past. The present also exists looking towards our potentialities, our future. So far, so good. The way St. Augustine puts it, "...the mind...performs three functions, those of expectation, attention, and memory." The present requires our attention, the past is brought back by memory, and the future exists in our expectation.

     Well, lots there to think about. But what I find interesting in relation to this episode is the importance of our memory. Our present has been formed by our past, and our present also looks forward to our future. Both present and future are, then, driven by the past. What should immediately stop us in our tracks, however, is recognizing how little of our past we actually were in control of. Our birth, our childhood, our parents, all out of our control. Even the death of loved ones, out of our control. The death of Rose's father, out of her control. She has no real memory of him, only a picture. She cannot use her memory to experience her father in the present, as I can with my grandfather who died some ten years ago. There is no voice, no face, no shared experiences to make the loss a bit more bearable. Only a void, filled by a photograph.

     So that's the point of the episode. Filling the void, creating a memory, however fleeting and superficial. Because our past makes us who we are. Rose has an opportunity here to fill that void, and establish a memory that can place her father always in her present. But of course, she goes too far. She tries to change it, so that her entire past can be rewritten. At the end of the episode, she ultimately gets what she is looking for. Her mother Jackie says, "People say there was this girl, and she sat with Pete while he was dying. She held his hand. Then she was gone. Never found out who she was." Rose creates a better past, and now has a memory. "Peter Alan Tyler, my dad. The most wonderful man in the world. Died the 7th of November, 1987." For you and I, there is no way to go back and create a memory, once the past is gone. Or is there?

     As we approach Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Easter following, I consider: what are we doing on feast days such as this? We are remembering. Somehow, we are to recreate the past, re-experience the acts of God in the world. It is a form of sacred memory, a past that forms us even though it lies far beyond our experience. Somehow, perhaps there is a way that we get to cheat time, to be formed that which we never knew? Maybe we aren't quite so different from Rose after all.