Time As A Point Of Reference

Today I took a walk on the beach outside my home. The tide was just beginning to come in so I walked in the wet part of the sands and made footprints going in different directions. I was a child creating a map of confusion as some of my prints pointed that way and others pointed this way. Some toward the sea, others toward the land, and some even toward the sky. When I reached the end of my morning sojourn, I turned around and headed back, retracing my steps.

I was thinking about the early explorers and how they were able to navigate uncharted seas when the stars in the sky no longer matched the stars with which they were familiar. When the big dipper and the North star were no longer points of reference, what did they use as a guide? Was it courage which fueled their quest? Did they not fear falling off the end of the world? They could always turn around and retrace their steps the way I was doing, I reckoned.

I no sooner had this thought when an unannounced wave came upon me. I was caught off guard. I was surprised. I froze, not from the temperature of the water for it was warm, but from its suddenness. In that moment, a second maybe three, maybe more, I do not know. Time stopped. All movement stopped. The constant roar of the sea stopped. There was silence. I stood there in the footprints of my unmoving feet and saw the trail they had made only minutes before covered by the sea. I did not have to look behind me. I knew those footprints were covered also. Without past or future where was I. Without the familiar, without the known, and unable to retrace my steps, where was I? I was in the present moment, locked in place for however long that moment lasted. Then the sea moved again. I could feel the sand slipping from beneath my feet and took a step forward.

Maybe in times such as this all one can do is take that first step again and again. Whenever it is needed. We make each moment the present moment without holding on to any points of reference. No breadcrumb trails, no familiar stars or footprints in the sand to guide us back home. No past, no future, no time, just now.

I don’t know how things happen or why but I have come to trust that things happen for a reason, although often it takes a while for that reason to be known. When I returned to my cabin and changed into some dry clothing, I picked up my battery operated cassette radio to see what time it was. I am not a big fan of clocks so this is the only clock I have other than the time on my computer. It has managed to keep perfect time for over twenty years. Today the liquid crystal display had some of its display missing so that an eight looked like a six in the last digit of the minutes. No problem. I can live with that. A few hours later the entire display was gone. I replaced the batteries but there was no change. Time had stopped again. At least as recorded by this clock.

In truth it did not matter. I have no place to be and no particular time to be there. Checking the time was more a habit than a necessity. I do wonder if the two experiences of time are related and if the sea and the dead clock were trying to remind me that this moment, right now, is all I have?

Alexandra (Sandy) Elene MacLean Denny (January 06, 1947 –April 21, 1978)

Listen to Sandy Denny sing Who Knows Where The Time Goes here.