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.

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