“All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is.”
I cannot exactly recall the first time I read Slaughterhouse-Five and came across Kurt Vonnegut’s notion of time not as linear but as an entirety that exists in whole, never changing. In all these years, though, I have never forgotten it. If you could see like a Vonnegut character, or the author himself, then time stops moving. “Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.” Ah, the Sagaponack scribe could say it like nobody else.
We’re not quite there in terms of knowing where we’re headed or where we’ve been. Even where we are at this very moment doesn’t always feel solid. In growing numbers and with increased frequency, people are referencing the unusual nature of time these days. Typical daily rhythms have given way to a normal described as new, one that seems to be new again every single day, in some form or another. It isn’t just hours that pass differently, although they certainly do seem to be moving more quickly from sunup to sundown, even as the days grow longer. Weeks feel closer to months, yet fly by in what was surely only a day or two, right?
“Was that really only a month ago?” “Wait, did that only happen on Monday? It feels so much longer!” Maybe it’s because there is so much unknown in the days, weeks and months to come. Or because so much has changed so quickly. People find themselves trying to get more of a handle on it, trying to figure out how it will change a future we haven’t seen, attempting to get perspective on what happened to the last 24 hours, the last week, the last month…
Or last quarter-century, for that matter.
Some 25 years ago—it may have been a little longer, or perhaps a year or two shorter, but such are the tricks of time—my wife (depending on that time, she may not have been my wife yet) and I were strolling through Greenport on a random summer afternoon. It wasn’t the village we’ve all seen blossom in many ways over the past decade, but remarkably the feel was, in many ways, very much the same. We bustled along with the crowd at Claudio’s, then did nothing while we watched the ferry head back and forth on its Shelter Island journey. Time was not of the essence. Strolling in and out of bars and shops, in search of nothing in particular. A block or two off Front Street, somehow off the beaten path, we found ourselves in a small gallery.
There was the usual collection of paintings and objects d’art, and as we were browsing, a small frame caught our eye. It was about eight inches square, encasing not a painting but just two pieces of sea glass, placed one above the other on a tiny scrap of handmade paper to resemble a sailboat.
The gallery owner spied us looking at it and walked over. He was eager to explain that the artist was an 11-year-old girl (or maybe she was 8) who had begun creating and selling these tiny sea glass creations to start making money to pay for college. Naturally, we were charmed.
Sea glass owes its existence to, more than any other factor, time. Tossed and tumbled in the ocean, changed in unpredictable ways, sharp edges turning softer and frosted over the decades. When it washes ashore, nobody knows its origins or how long it took to arrive in that spot. Sailboats, at the whims of wind and waters, similarly will get where they’re going when they get there. Yes, you can trim the sails and take the rudder, but you don’t know when the winds and tides will change. You plan for the journey, do what you can in the moment, sail on.
We bought the sea glass sailboat, and to this day it hangs in our home. It elicits the same simple joy it did as when we first saw it in a gallery that is now merely memory. A card was glued to the back, with a short writeup about the artist, but it has faded and worn away to nothing. I cannot recall her name, although Kathleen or Lindsey comes to mind. I have no idea where or if she went to college, or if she is still an artist. She would be in her 30s now, living I don’t know where and pursuing I don’t have a clue what.
I’ve had an idea from time to time to write about that piece of art, imagining that an artist would like to know that something she made has meaning in somebody else’s life. As with countless plans best laid, this one too went awry. Until now.
It feels like only yesterday, or maybe last weekend, that we were first seeing this sailboat, considering with a bit of wonder how someone so young using something so old could create something brand new. Is she reading this now? Will she see it at all? Might somebody in her family recognize it, not a bug in amber but a tiny boat under glass, and will they share it with her? Once this story goes out into the world, how many days or weeks or months or years will pass until we know?
Only time will tell.