Unwinding the clock
You might go back further than you think
The Circling Fin
Here’s a cheery thought from Italian writer GG Belli: ‘Death is hidden in clocks’. And French composer Hector Berlioz had a similar thought, wittily expressed as: ‘Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils’.
Your view of time depends of course on how far along you are. As children, the shiny, wide ribbon that marks out our time on earth flutters into the horizon as though infinite. Even in early adulthood, the end is too far off to attract much thought.
Further along, you realise the ribbon is not quite as long as you thought and that, for some people, it can be alarmingly short: Out of nowhere a scissors can appear.
Then the ribbon of your days begins to course over your palm at ever greater speed. Gulp. If you have reached that state of wisdom prized by the ancients, you might have eyes only for the bright piece of ribbon that is coming to hand now, regardless of the spent coils at your feet and how much remains.
Given all this, it is certainly something to consider this curious fact: Before you were an embryo, half the cells from which you originated were an unfertilised egg, formed while your mother was a foetus. This means that, speaking for myself, I came into being, in some sense, 14 weeks after my mother was conceived, in 1942!
Thus my cells made their first appearance in a world at war. Discussing this with my children (whose cells came into being in that Revolutionary Year of 1968, even though the youngest of them, as I write, has yet to learn how to tie her own shoelaces) we figured out that their mother’s ribbon must be longer even than mine: her cells were first formed in 1940, the year Bugs Bunny arrived on screen. Here was me thinking all these years I had married a younger woman when, in fact, her cells predate mine by almost three years.
Often, the light of my life (let’s call her ‘The Wondrous One’) has had occasion to remark: “If I was writing this column, I’d have something to say about the male of the species.”
But now that she turns out to be the oldest in the house she can credibly claim she is the wisest: With cells on the go since before the attack on Pearl Harbour, she has more than a few bows to her ribbon – though, if I’m not careful, before long the Wondrous One might take that ribbon of life … and string me up with it.
Fin Keegan is a writer based in Westport. This column is based on his weekly radio essay, heard on WRFM radio, and online at thecirclingfin.com.