Embracing the Fickleness of Time
A great movie is one that leaves you thinking, questioning reality, your life and all things in general, and not in the superficial way a lecture does, but in a deeper more relaxed kind of way, when a question no longer gnaws at your existence, nor invokes such avid curiosity that you have to know the answer immediately.
One such movie is ‘Boyhood’. You might recall it, just by the innumerable awards dumped upon it last year and that of course was what intrigued me to watch in the first place. As Ethan Hawkes describes it, the movie is like “a time lapse photography of a human” lifespan. It follows the journey of a boy from the innocence of childhood to the adventurous phase of discovery in college.
The movie subtly touches on a range of complex themes in an average human’s life through the inclusion of everyday scenarios like a deeply bonding conversation with your father, your first real relationship, graduating from high school and going off to college. Paradoxically, the central theme of the movie revolves not around changes as they happen in our lives but how humans essentially are somewhat incapable of dealing with change, instead wanting things to remain as they are.
Deep inside, we humans want time to stop where it is, so that we can stay as young as we are, have the fit desirable bodies, spend time with our cute little children and remain as we are today. Maybe that’s why we take tons of photographs, and save precious little momentos from our childhood and from our trips abroad, all in an effort to store those moments in time forever.
If only we would realize that all these things will be thrown away by our children the day after we die. (Don’t get sad after reading this, it’s not sad, it’s just a fact and gentler still when you’re young and don’t have a truck full of momentos to pass onto your children).
These things have meaning only for us, not our next generation. The wonderful memory that we cherish from a family trip to the northern areas exists only in our mind, not on the colourful printed photography paper that now yields those sketches of a human.
Photographs, momentos and all such things are a mere symbol, a gentle reminder of a good time and if you‘re lucky enough of beautiful trusting relationships. Look at them too long, and you may get too out of the bandwagon of life, lost in the past and thus deprived of an opportunity to make new memories. And memories– they are all that lasts in this whirlpool of change. If humans, would only care to remember that often.
I guess, that’s why Islam and Sufism remind us repeatedly to live life as a traveler, with no extra baggage and no attachments to material things because eventually when you’re leaving them all behind, it will only hurt too much. Once upon a time I was a fan of photography because I wanted to store every moment of my life in pictures forever. I didn’t say this out loud then, but I knew deep down what I was really aiming for.
Several years down the line, my interest in photography remains as it was but the reasons behind it have changed. For one, I realized soon enough, that at the rate that I was going, storing this immense amount of information would require several hundred massive memory hardrives and atleast another lifetime to review and sort them out. Now, I enjoy photography to capture the unsaid emotions that one really well shot photograph can convey to another person who has no previous connection to the picture or its lead characters.
It is easy to advise another to live life as a traveler but what would that mean in the practical sense. What about children, your job, a career and a house to call your own. Is it forming too much attachment to the world? And if that indeed is too much attachment, what is a person supposed to do then?The mere realization; that children, items stored in the cupboard and all of life s accessories are transitory is key to solving that riddle.
A king once asked a wise ring maker to inscribe in his ring something that would make him happy when he was sad and sad when he was happy. And so his ring said “This too shall pass” and every time the king looked at it when he was happy, he would realize the fickleness of time, and become sad and when he would look at it when sad, he would realize that this time too would pass and become happy.
What I mean to say by this is, love the things around you that enrich your life, value the roof over your head and all the luxuries you take for granted because of the position you enjoy in society, nurture your children, enjoy your life but never try to find answers to questions like “what are we doing here” and “what is the point of life” in those things. They lie within you, within your connection with God and for me in Islam, as a way of life.
At the risk of sounding religious or as my brother would amusingly describe it,‘Islamzada’ , the answers to these things are already there within Islam. When people in Hollywood movies go around asking “what is my purpose in life” , I wish they would just read some of the answers God has already sent to us in the Quran.
This life is a test, its transitory in nature, do good deeds when here and don’t harm anyone by either word or action, are all answers that are already laid out in the Quran. Humans today have a very short lifespan, about 80years or so if you’re lucky and I’m sure God didn’t mean for us to be lost and confused in the first 60 years of them, not efficiently utilizing our limited time finding the answer to this question.
But just because I wrote this down here, doesn’t mean you will suddenly read this and find the purpose to life. It doesn’t mean that I can drill it into you by lecturing you either. You will find it over time, in everyday moments–in your family, in your friends, in nature, your favourite sport or just a passion you like pursuing. You will see it, acknowledge it, forget it, and relearn it until a time when it is a part of who you are and what you do every day. And that will center you and make you a well-balanced individual.
In my limited interaction with people in/from/of Western countries, I feel that generally many of them , specially those our age, lack this kind of centre that is very prevalent in Asian culture; Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sufism blame any religion/idea/ philosophy or none at all.
This kind of balance, inner peace is in the very soul of Asia. Perhaps, it has something to do with the fact that much of Asia is very under developed and so lacks the bondage of materialism that has overtaken so many industrialized nations. Of course in the years to come, as Asia too industrializes and falls into the grips of mass consumerism, it might lose that kind of innocence and charm but then we always knew “Change is the only constant.”
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