34. Time and Distance

“Forever” is such a terrifying word.

Granted, it’s not immediately as scary-sounding as things like, say, flesh-eating bacteria. But just imagine for a moment with me the sheer enormity that is encapsulated in those 7 letters. To illustrate this, I will borrow the words of Hendrik Willem Van Loon:

“High up in the North in the land called Svithjod, there stands a rock. It is a hundred miles high and a hundred miles wide. Once every thousand years a little bird comes to this rock to sharpen its beak. When the rock has thus been worn away, then a single day of eternity will have gone by.”

Eternity. It’s a bloody long time.

This is one of the reasons I am such a non-committal person. I cannot, with a straight face, promise to be someone’s best friend forever. I find myself unable to give guarantees. And to the annoyance of many who knows me in person, I am very reluctant to make promises, or to give my word to something.

I guess you could call it a fear of commitment – but honestly, what is there to fear from commitment? The thing is, I don’t dread the thought of attaching myself to someone or something for long periods of time. I do, however, dread the thought of failing to meet that expectation.

The simple fact about life is, as you all know, that things just happen. Who’s to say for certain what is going to happen after I have published this post? You could say that I’ll go to bed and wake up in the morning. But how certain can you be that it will happen? I don’t think anyone who died suddenly in their sleep ever saw death coming.

But that’s too somber an example – take, for instance, an agreement to be at a certain place at a certain time. Sure, you’d give your word, and you’d do what you have to in order to honor that word – but things just happen. The tire goes flat. A police roadblock appears. The traffic light stops working. A car crash slowed traffic to a crawl.

(I usually add “if all goes well” whenever I make a promise to be anywhere at a certain time as a disclaimer)

Things happen. And if you’re talking about something that extends over months and years, things also change. The tide of time pulls things apart, brings things together, and everything gets thrown around in its currents.

Recently, a friend of mine expressed his disappointment at how we’re not as close as we used to be. “Things are just not the same like before,” he was heard saying.

I could not help but feel a slight annoyance at this – of course things are not the same now, compared to when we were 17 or 18 years old. In between, we have made new friends, found other interests, experienced different things – how can any of us, really, expect anything at all to stay the same? The air that you breathe is not the same air you were breathing in a second ago. In the space of you reading that last sentence, cells in your body have died, and new cells have grown to take their place. Your hair is that nanometer longer. You have grown that many seconds older.

Everything changes. Everyone changes.

The best we can do for the people who are worth it, I think, is to change according to how they are changing.

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