This past Mother’s Day, I was keenly aware of my desire to freeze time by taking photos of my family, the flowers I received, and even the cards my family gave me. Sentimental moments are the stuff of precious memories, but more importantly, I love my family, I love my life, and I want feelings and special moments to last. For better and for worse, however, time does not stand still; time marches on. Or does it?
Albert Einstein was the first physicist to theorize that motion slows the passage of time. The passage of time can differ for two people at two different points in space if they are far away enough from each other and if they are moving at different speeds. When space and time are combined in the four-dimensional space-time continuum, what is the present or the past to someone at one point in space-time can be perceived as the future to another person at a different point in space-time, and the recent past to one person can be the distant past to another (the theory of relativity). This means that the past, the present, and the future all exist simultaneously; the past is not gone, and the future is not non-existent.
In my head my children are simultaneously still small children speaking their “baby words” and full-grown adults who speak of things beyond my experience. In my mind, I can see my kids as toddlers, as preschoolers, or as elementary school students while I’m asking them about their days at work or about their travels. Parents often remark that it seems like only yesterday that teenagers and young adults were busy being goofy, adorable, or obnoxious little kids. In parents’ minds, the past was merely hours ago. In kids’ minds, their childhoods are ancient history, and they’re not into ancient history.
The homes of many elderly people have walls and shelves lined with old photographs of family members. The pictures don’t mean anything to anyone else, but they mean the world to the homeowners who can still reach back and touch the past. They can look into eyes that once reflected back love. They can touch a face that once brightened their day. They can hear voices and laughter that filled their hearts with joy. To these homeowners, the present and the past co-exist in these pictures. To their adult children and grandchildren who have moved away, the pictures hang like a permanent exhibit at a museum.
I know that memories and the space-time continuum aren’t really the same thing, but relativity is a concept that applies to both. In science and in the minds and hearts of people, the present and the past can exist simultaneously. Photographs are pictures of the space-time continuum; whether they exist in the present, in the past, or in the future is all relative.
©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.