Borrowing Time (The Tralfamadore Connection)
by Jake Block
“I suddenly realized that we were on borrowed time, that time is always borrowed, and that the lending agency exacts its premium precisely when we are least prepared to pay and need to borrow more.”
— Andre Aciman
No matter how long you live, you’ll find that life is much shorter than you need to experience and accomplish all of the things that you really want to do. So, in order to maximize our life experience, we tend to shift time around as much as we can, trying to fit things in, and still have the life that we’re comfortable in living. That works for a while, but we soon realize that shifting things around doesn’t give us more time, but just helps us manage what time we have allotted for the things we need to do. That’s all well and good until we reach a point where there is something else we would like to have in our lives, and then something has to go.
We leave things behind before their time, rationalizing it by telling ourselves that we’ll do something new now, and then come back to them later. Think about it. How many hobbies, projects and fun things in your life have you decided to put aside, meaning to do later. How many have you actually returned to? How many have you just abandoned because your life continues to become more complex and the things that you do now seem more important to pursue? If you’re like me, time happens and things change, and all you can really do is go with the flow of life. You borrowed time to pursue those new goals and interests. Now that time is filled as well.
It’s like your average real life credit crisis, but on an emotional level. You borrow a sum of money because you really want to take that cruise to Mazatlan, Mexico, for the annual Dos XX Beer and Taco Festival. Two tickets, hotel and concert tickets to see Pedro and the Puppies set you back $3200, but it was time to take your relationship with “Jenny” to another level, and this would be a memory you’d have forever! Maybe.
Turns out that the cruise ship was a nightmare, and you spent three days to Mazatlan sick in your cabin, and when you were out on the deck, you were hanging over the rail, wondering when your stomach would finally be empty. The concert was awful. The beer was warm, the venue was oversold, and your “Jenny?” Well, the last time you saw her, she was getting into a limo with the drummer for the Puppies, on their way to their next show back in the states. And to make bad matters worse, your return leg of the cruise was just as bad as the trip to Mexico, but you had to do it alone.
The kicker is that the loan you took out to experience all of this fun will take you over three years to pay off, making minimum payments. That experience you put everything else on hold for not only set you back by three years, but added significantly to your financial debt. Beyond this are the intangible expenses, not monetary, but losses still, on an emotional and satisfaction level.
While I can understand the desire to experience more and more in as compressed amount of time as we can manage, I think that we could do better in the long run by slowing it down a bit, savoring each new experience and gleaning the insights that we can from our experiences, before delving deeper into our need for more and greater adventures. In this manner, while we won’t be accruing a time deficit, neither will we be borrowing against our uncertain future.
Living in the present is key. I know that the present doesn’t seem as sexy as the future. If it was a period in time that the majority of people were getting the most out of, stories and movies about the future would not be quite so exciting to so many people. Nor would movies an books about “the good old days,” where everything was so much easier and so much less frenetic than the world we know today. However, truth be known, it’s always been that way for people, wherever they might be. The future has always been a place to rush forward to, and the past has always been a place to retreat from the cares of the day, but “today” has always been the only true metric for comparison and a reality check on our ambitions, because as much as we might truly wish to press some magical fast-forward button to get to that fantastic future, we first must find a way to invent it, in the here and now.
In 1969, Kurt Vonnegut wrote his book, Slaughterhouse Five, an anti-war novel whose subtitle was, “The Children’s Crusade: a Duty-Dance with Death.” In the novel, as a result of “shell shock” during World War II, the hero, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck in time,” and is fated to jump randomly through time, both forward and back, reliving his life or projecting to his future. The underlying theme is timeless, in that “history repeats itself.” His experiences during his time-jumps can be disturbing, and has led to the book being banned at least eighteen times, over the years. It ranks as number 29 on the American Library Association’s list of banned or challenged classics. Clearly, the “fast forward button” isn’t that popular of an option for many people.
The book was made into a movie in 1972, starring Michael Sacks, Paul Lazzaro, Eugene Roche and Valerie Perrine.
Mostly unknown to the readers of the book is the fact the the book’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is based on a real life American soldier who was held as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II. One can judge for oneself if his coping mechanism, that of “time jumping,” indeed helps him cope, or is it in actuality the mind subconsciously opting for flight, rather than fighting the painful realities and traumas one must face in one’s day to day life.
When we borrow time ourselves, in abandoning elements of our life to move on to the next best thing, individuals reveal a naivety that tells them, “the future must be better,” when in actuality, without a firm grounding in the present, the future can become as frenetic and psychologically disenfranchising as today. I would conclude that if one is not well prepared for the future by learning lessons of the past and the present, any progress one might make by jumping to newer modalities on blind faith, and abandoning current technologies might well be limited at best.
There’s no real need to rush to the future to borrow what we hope will benefit us more today. What we might gain from the bargain is seldom worth what we stand to lose in the transaction. Better to use today as a preparation for the future, so that when it arrives, we won’t squander what we gain. The sad tragedy about borrowing time is that you always have to pay it back, often at the most inopportune time, and always with interest.