I have this vague geometric model in my head that represents in an abstract way the return home from any destination. I see the trip back as passing through a funnel that gets increasingly narrower as I approach Milwaukee. The actual plane that lands in Milwaukee is the neck of that funnel and contains only a hundred or so people who are similar situated. The width of the wide end of the funnel in my mind varies in proportion to how far I have traveled and in particular how vast or populous the place is. A trip out and back to New Jersey is a rather small funnel. But when I travel to a place like India or China where there are tens of thousands of people, people that I am very disconnected to, I picture myself on the very edge of the widest end of the funnel. This is of course a fiction of sorts as traveling to a place as close as Chicago involves coming into contact with tens of thousands of people who are very disconnected to me as well.
The geometric model is, in some kind of private logic, complimented with other components much like an actual mathematical theorem involves multiple variables. One of those variables is distance and remoteness from home and I think yet another is the difference in culture. It makes sense though (at least in my warped mind) that the funnel model is more prominent in those longer journeys. The reason for that is fairly obvious; as I return I come into contact with more and more familiar emblems of home. When returning from Europe, for example, you first notice the familiarity of signage, Euro symbols become familiar Dollar symbols, other elements like interior design and roadways look more recognizable. Next, the mind starts to recognize things associated at a subconscious level with home; what people are wearing, a particular Midwestern look or accent and so on. Thinking about this in the context of my road trips to Florida as a child I can remember brands that were indigenous to the South; Esso gas stations, for example turned into Exxon stations in the North, just as Waffle Houses gave way to Howard Johnsons and so on.
A strange thing occasionally happens to me when traveling in that last narrow tube of the funnel and it happened again tonight. As I sat in the Charlotte airport waiting for the connection to Milwaukee I noticed an older woman across from me. I noticed her because there were two rather different things about her. First, she was using an iPhone and I thought that was cool for an “older” woman. Looking at her I would guess she is about 65ish. The second thing was that she was carrying a dozen red roses loosely wrapped at the stem end in what appeared to be a white, cloth napkin. Her face is badly wrinkled and she has a somewhat forlorn look about her. She carries sadness in her walk and in her shoulders.
As we queued up to board the plane I caught a glimpse of this woman’s boarding pass; “Ruffalo, Sandra”. I first met Sandy when I was appointed to represent two minor children in the Clark family divorce. Sandy represented the father, Greg Clark, a finish carpenter by trade who was embroiled in a custody battle with his soon to be ex-wife who had chosen the company of the paper delivery boy over him. He took it personally. Sandy was a bright, energetic lawyer who enthusiastically represented the interests of her client. She was also an interesting and charismatic person. After the case was over I would frequently see Sandy and we would exchange pleasantries or have casual but engaging conversations. I remember thinking of her then as an older person who had stayed relevant and was engaged in life.
As I took my seat I noticed another familiar face, that of John Thomas, which I believe is also a British expression meaning “penis”; but in this case John Tomas is an actual person, presumably attached to a penis, and he is seated two rows in front of me. I last saw John Thomas fifteen years ago. He was the friend of a friend and worked in the building next to my office. I would frequently see him in a couple of places. The first was the coffee cart that was situated in the walkway that passed between our buildings and the second was in the bank that was on the ground floor of my building. John’s building was the federal office building where he was employed by the FBI as an investigator. His particular expertise was bank robbery. He wears the same enigmatic smile tonight as I left him with fifteen years ago.
I hadn’t recognized Sandy when I saw her; not even the littlest bit. I didn’t have that ‘I know her’ or that ‘I recognize something there’ feeling. Conversely, I immediately recognized John Thomas. He looks exactly the same to me despite fifteen years passing. He’s even wearing an outfit that I would typically see him in then including a tight fitting baseball cap.
As we took off I got to thinking about fifteen years and about the passing of time. I started thinking about the radical Einsteinian theory that time is indeed related to speed. This plane travels I think at most like 350 mph. Einstein of course postulated that if one could travel fast enough, at the speed of light say, time would itself slow or even stop. We typically see this illustrated through the idea of a twin brother leaving to go on a rocket journey at the speed of light. While he’s gone his twin ages 30 years but he returns and has only aged three weeks (bottle that up and sell it). When we first come into contact with this concept it’s mind blowing because kind of like geometric progressions the effect is so out of proportion with our perceived cause. I love Einstein’s theory and the theories of Stephen Hawking who believes he has proved that time is directly related to temperature, because they corroborate a theory of my own; that time is simply another concrete creation of God not dissimilar to grass or a rock for that matter. It’s the human perception of this creation, time, that makes it what it is to us. This is the only way I can wrap my head around the idea of eternity as well; that perhaps eternity isn’t unlimited time but rather the absence of time altogether.
So I started to formulate my own theory, fueled by vodka, club soda and some ice. How is it that Sandy had aged so drastically that I didn’t recognize her while John Hadn’t? These two characters in the narrow tube of the funnel, both exactly fifteen years from my last encounter with them have somehow aged differently. John had figuratively stepped off the light speed rocket while Sandy had remained here on earth. Without taking a detailed interview with each of them I’m left only to speculation. Is it because John traveled those fifteen years at the figurative speed of light; speeding like a lubricated rocket through the rough spots of life? Had he simply encountered fewer rough spots; put on fewer miles? I then got to thinking how do these two see me; rocket man or man who crawled the last fifteen years? If input is any indicator, the vast majority of people guess that I am ten years younger than I am yet I’ve had plenty of rough spots over the last fifteen years. So here is my theorem:
A=aO2 where A is Age, a is attitude, O is outlook
Why is outlook squared? Well, because I like the concept of exponential growth. Once one begins a positive outlook it has a way of growing upon itself exponentially. Of the two theories mine is likely more provable. Einstein’s theory has the problem of proof in that we don’t have a rocket capable of the speed of light. Mine on the other hand, has the John Thomases of the world.
…that time is simply another concrete creation of God not dissimilar to grass or a rock. It’s the human perception of this creation, time, that makes it what it is to us – I know we can’t change the creation itself but maybe, just maybe with practice we can simply alter the perception part which may just be the actual operative factor.
By Clay Konnor