Halloween is a great celebration for kids – an adventuresome, slightly spooky calendar event that is anticipated and enjoyed in equal measure. For kids, the pain of heightened anticipation seems to make time slow to a crawl as the day approaches. Then the costumed, candy-filled evening speeds by, and it is a whole year before Halloween returns, an eternity to kids.
Time is funny like that. We, adults, orient ourselves to time through understanding ourselves to be moored, albeit temporarily, within its passing current. We understand our past slipstreams out behind us while the future flows toward us with its metronomic, relentless intent.
Occupying the space between the future and past is a brief sliver of time we call “the present.” It is where we live and where we are advised by life-coach types to always “show up” and “be.” Yet, the present is a single tick of the clock. It marks the spot and moment we intersect with time. The past, though illuminated, is behind us, and the future, yet to manifest, remains cloaked in impenetrable darkness ahead. All we actually occupy is the present.
Time is understood differently by the people of Papua New Guinea; for them, it flows in the opposite direction.
Because the future is yet to be visible, they reason it must still be behind the eyes. Whereas the past which has already been seen is in front of their eyes. Therefore, for them, the future is always approaching from behind, and the past is laid out in front. Their present, however, like ours, is a single fleeting heartbeat.
The direction of the flow of time is something humans made up. The only constant we all share is the present, which as soon as it arrives becomes immediately part of the past and thus, beyond and behind us – or possibly in front.
As certainly as we can know anything, we know that we cannot change the past nor, unfortunately, avoid its consequences. However, it is also generally agreed we can change the future – and we do that by being deliberate about what we do in the present.
In my youth, riding a dirt bike at pace seemed to alter my relationship to time. The connection between present actions and future consequences was compressed sharply into focus as I tore heedlessly through the landscape. In those moments, I lived my life about 40 feet in front of myself, making constant adjustments to the bike’s direction and balance. Future, present, and past threatened to otherwise collide in a blur of trees, rocks, mud, and adrenaline. Life-coach types would surely have approved. I was fully present and totally focused – on the potential short-term consequences.
However, consequence can also be long-term; consequence has a long memory and an implacable and exacting sense of justice that ensures we will indeed reap what we sow. It is this longer arch of consequence we face over the human-induced phenomenon we are living through. We are experiencing wildly oscillating, randomly dispersed, calamitous climate fluctuations percussing the present and darkening the future outlook.
As scientists project ever more sophisticated and powerfully granular climate models forward, the resultant graphs and charts are a real horror, very Halloween-worthy. Wrap yourself in one of their scary scenarios as a Halloween costume and watch the fun evaporate. Or don’t do that because Halloween is for kids to enjoy. We go to great lengths to ensure they are jolly and safe, enjoying themselves in the company of their cutely costumed friends. We wouldn’t willingly do anything to spoil their innocent fun.
The future also belongs to those same kids, and we most certainly don’t mean to spoil that for them either. The thing about the future is that it’s always arriving, ready or not, shaped in part by actions we took back when the past was temporarily the present.
While kids love the thrill of slightly scary events, will today’s cute little trick or treaters grow to face more terrifying events than they would ever choose? If we adults continue to live in the past or focus only on the present, that is the only future we will leave them.
If, however, we choose to focus on the consequences of our choices about 20 years ahead of ourselves, adjust and seek balance to avert disaster, even the worst of what our kids may have to face will be bearable.
It’s the kids who will be present when our past and their futures collide. It could be Halloween-like, minus the treats: an unendingly scary night – or not.
All the evidence points to the same thing – the occasion for us to choose their future is right now – in this sliver of gifted time we call the present.
We can yet spare our kids a lot of scary stuff. The challenge and the trick is, we will have to sacrifice some, maybe a lot, of our accustomed treats. Pounding ever louder on our front door is trick or treat on a global scale. Turning out the lights and ignoring it will not make it go away.