Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Same and Not the Same

I like my last year's Rosh Hashanah post. But I can't write the same one twice.

The solar clock is about to tick again, so here we are, at a boundary between two chunks of time. Year past and year to come, entirely different from our humble embedded perspective, and so damn similar when seen from above. Variations on a theme, and year-to-come will be year-past soon enough. My past-self was wont to scoff at such arbitrary boundaries as secular or religious new year's days; my current-self, made less arrogant and more human by the tenderizing mallets of time, is more apt to latch onto them gratefully, as useful and stable landmarks amidst the chaotic swirl. But these two selves are also variants of some common prototype. They are the same, they are both versions of me, yet different.

"The same and not the same" is a rather koan-like phrase but I got it from the title of a pretty good book on chemistry, and as it happens I am starting a new job once again dealing with computational chemistry, which is looking to be the same and not the same as the one that got me out to San Francisco about 13 years ago. Back then my wife was pregnant with our second child who is now about to have a Bar Mitzvah, which is going to be the same and not the same as that of his brother, three years earlier. These two individuals, who in years past might have been thought of as rough copies of their parents, are working hard on differentiating themselves from us and each other, as is appropriate to their age. That process too has probably happened in much the same way for thousands of years, and is utterly different each time.

Another sage once said that history not only repeats itself, it stutters. More recently I read someone complaining that modern life was like trying to keep time to a shoe going around in a dryer (ie, as arrhythmic and unpatterned a sound as can be imagined). Change is accelerating; my ability to deal with it is diminishing, so the older I get the more I cling to whatever stable temporal patterns are available. This particular one has lasted a very long time, and part of the reason for that is its ability to sweep up even the dubious and reluctant into itself.

1 comment:

Ben Hyde said...