Time Monuments

 1 March 2005



From my good friend Murray, I have learned that along some, most, all?, Virginia highways there are these short concrete posts sticking out of the ground just off the highway which are referred to as monuments and which provide a “already surveyed in” point from which new survey work can proceed.  These monuments then define a location in space.  But for some reason, I have another form of monument built into my head, mind: time monuments.

In the landscape of my mind, my memories, I have these very specific, short concrete posts among the bushes and weeds of daily living which define a time and place of a specific memory.  For example, there is a monument which is, was, my, our, wedding and although over 35 years ago, I can jump to that time monument in my mind ever so quickly and easily and be there, at that time and place, as if it was only yesterday.

Suspect no magic in this, I imagine everyone has many strong memories which they can easily recall if they want to but I wonder if they can jump from time monument to time monument as quickly and easily as I seem to be able to do?

In one of Kurt Vonnegut novels, the main character has this tendency to become unstuck in time and jump either into his own past or a future he is unfamiliar with, in some uncontrolled, chaotic way.  Jumping from time monument to time monument without any control over the jumping.  Probably has some sort of psychological illness, I do not know the name of right this minute.  Anyway, point being is that I can jump from time monument to time monument easily and what is so scary is that once a jump is made, I am right there at a monument in time and space and breathing that air and feeling that sun and thinking those thoughts and having those emotions.

Again, I suspect there is no magic here and that most folks do the same thing although they may not call especially strong memories, time monuments.

But as I jump from time monument to time monument in my mind, sometimes in a controlled way but mostly not, some portion of my thoughts seem to want to understand why this or that specific monument exists at all.  What was so special about the time and place that it got concreted into the time monument post?  Sure a wedding is a big event in one’s life and should be remembered and it is easy to see why it became a monument but what about all the others?

Driving a Volkswagen bus up the mountains near Blacksburg, Virginia at 4 in the morning with 2 little kids in the back asleep and the feelings of accomplishment about the new motor I just put into the renovated bus and that I was on some mission.  Or taking off all my clothes and crawling in underneath a small waterfalls “we” had found on some exploration of what appeared to be a ordinary cow pasture but which turned out to have this beautiful stream running through it and this magnificent, small waterfalls.  Naked, in under the falls and I some bearded caveman sitting there, sheltered from some wild beast which had been chasing me.

Watching a Korean farmer urge on his old oxen to pull his hand guided, walk behind, plow through the water logged mud of a Korean rice paddy and seeing, feeling,  a very old time monument where I was there, that farmer, doing the very same thing 100 or 1000 years before.

Listening to some quiet Indian music and suddenly being in a small hut in a small village in India 10,000 years ago, late at night and overwhelmed by the spirituality and calmness of the place and time and me, just a novice in the teachings which were going on there. 

I wonder.  Do all those folks who like to dress up in American Civil War costumes and participate in battle reenactments, are the just stuck on some really big time monument in their head?

And it seems my time monuments are not limited to the my past or the past of other characters who I can only assume are me but also the futures of me or the futures of other characters, most of which do not carry the moniker “Ron”.  Far off worlds and times and spaces, some good and some not so good but I jumping there now and again because I want to or need to or “it just happens”.

“Unstuck in time.”  I think it was Billy Pilgrim, the character in Vonnegut book, which was unstuck in time and always jumping between time monuments.  To him, sort of unsettling at first but then, later, in the book, he sort of learns to accept it and just flow with it and in a sense, I am learning to do that too.

For the longest time, I actually tried to prevent myself from jumping backward to a time monument of the past.  What was the point of being there by the river bank extracting that fish hook from that little girl's hand with all her family standing around, helpless to raise a finger in help.

Or be back as a child in my parent’s home and listening to yet another argument over something and feeling so lost and upset about something I could not control and so sad that 2 people I loved, seemed to want to kill each other.

Sitting in the Cessna, starring down the runaway, prop turning, hand on throttle, alone for the first time, heart pounding, head buzzing, waiting for the radio permission which will launch me down the runway and into the sky. This time monument built out of fear, excitement, a sense of accomplishment and a focus that says "Get it right or die".

What is the point to visiting, being there, at these past time monuments, ever again?  Even the monuments which are all bright and shiny in the reflections of the mind's light, like college graduation or that first kiss from a girlfriend or the feeling of warmth in the heart, love, for a girlfriend or lover?

Sitting on top an Arizona mountain, alone, looking out on millions of acres of desert and watching the huge old sun go down into the ground for a good night’s sleep and after it disappearing, realizing I was blind as I had looked at the sun too long and stumbling and bumbling my way down off that mountain to my car.

The birth of each of the children God gave me to raise and be responsible for.

Being at some event and feeling immense pride in the accomplishment of one of my children.

Alone, late at night, all tangled up with thoughts when I an alien being from some other galaxy came to my backdoor and how much I wanted to go open the door and ask him in for a chat but how scared I was and could not.

The old American Indian I passed by in the middle of an Arizona Indian Reservation, 50 miles from anything in either direction and he standing there with his thumb stuck out for a ride and I too afraid to stop and pick him up.  And here is a case where I wish that when I jump to this monument in time and space, I take a different action and do stop and pick him up and talk and ask him 1 million questions and offer him a cigarette.

Just memories, I know, but to me, they are more than that.  Well-established time monuments to which I can jump at any time and be there.  Really be there.

Thinking about it, I think all the time monuments I have, are all constructed out of some emotional concrete. That is, that short post sticking up out of all the stuff of my past and future memories has a major dose of emotion in it, like cement is a key ingredient to real concrete.  Without the emotional component, no monument was established but I have to wonder what emotions went into the monument of me being up on the lifeguard stand at the swimming pool?

Actually, I remember at the time, actually sitting on the chair and deciding I should shove a post down into the ground of my mind so I could always come back to this place.  Not sure why I wanted the lifeguard chair to be a place I would want to ever return to, but clearly remember I established that monument of my own volition.

And all those others?  Some sort of time monument company, crew, software program,  running around inside my head, making monuments based on some unknown, unseen set of rules?  When are memories made and what kind become time monuments?

Jumping now from monument to monument, like Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time and I do not find it unsettling but rather an odd, friendly feeling, even visiting those time and space places, which are not particularly pleasant.  Jump, slip, slide, be there, jump to another one, and never know which one will be next. 

As far as I can tell, my time monuments are not ordered by time or any other organization I can discern.  A jump from seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time to include a full rainbow out over the ocean and smelling the salt spray, to meeting the devil or at least evil on top of a Shenandoah National Park mountain top and not even sensing or recognizing who or what I was with.

Strange to stand off at some distance and see yourself in a coffin, dead as a doornail (where did this saying come from anyway?). Or to jump back to the time monument of bringing home my brother from the hospital in our pickup truck and me standing up in on the front and only seat looking down on the baby.

And so, perhaps there is nothing left to say about time monuments.  Perhaps I make too much of what, in the end, are just strong memories but it is the ability to jump from one to another and actually be there again which I find interesting.

I wonder if you have experienced the same thing and what future time monuments for yourself or other yet unborn selves you have tripped across and not know how to deal with?


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