Today’s bit of insight comes from one of my favorite books of all time, which itself is, in a sense, about all time. Vonnegut tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, who becomes “unstuck in time” during World War II and proceeds to experience his life as a nonlinear narrative. (“He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.”) The following is Billy’s reflection on one of these events, his trip to the planet of Tralfamadore, which changes his perspective on the relationship between past and present, and has challenged mine, as well.
“The most important thing I have learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.”