Winning, Classrooms, Laughter. And God.

“Are you going to ask me one of those impossible deep questions, like ‘What is time?'” A student frowned at me.

“Yes!” I said, opening my arms as if to welcome the question into my space. The class giggled.

My student shook his head. “Ugh, that’s a bullshit question.”

“It’s my FAVORITE bullshit question!” I shouted, and I tightened my fists and hopped forward, unable to contain how much I loved my bullshit question. “What is time?”

The other students in my class – still new to each other, still growing accustomed to each other, and still warming up to me – watched silently. I had quietly goaded this other student of mine into commenting on our topic at hand, which was belief in God. I knew this student already, and trusted his ability to think out loud with care and without fear. Though perhaps not without cursing.

“WHAT IS TIME?” I asked, knees bent as if I might leap again.

“It’s…how do I say this simply? It’s just linear.”

“A series of subsequent events measured evenly at a linear pace,” another student added.

“Yes, linear,” came the agreement. “So there can’t be a God.”

“Time is linear!” I echoed, twitching. I have the energy of a poorly supervised toddler when I am in a classroom. I also lack shame like a toddler. Though I do have a better vocabulary. I grinned at my interlocutor, aware as other students straightened with attention. “How does time feel?”

“What?”

“How does time feel?”

“It’s measurable by science, it’s not…”

“How does it FEEL to YOU?” I asked, touching my heart and curling up like some kind of deranged…. I can’t think of an analogy. A deranged professor.

“Well… It’s now. It’s right now.”

“Yes!” I said, uncoiling a touch as if physically relieved. “And how does now feel?”

He thought for a moment. “I am aware of it because I’m thinking about it. I’m a cerebral guy, I like to think.”

“Yes! Think! What about when you remember? What is it like to remember?”

“Well, I can picture things. Sometimes I can feel the memory, as if physically.”

“YES!” My whole frame stiffened all at once, jolting me into the air. “Physical memory! How alive memory is for us! We can even have memories engrained into our very nerves, remembered in a complex physical reaction. This is where we get PTSD.”

My students stared at me, perhaps wondering if I would jump again.

I continued: “It is as if my whole body is involved in time, and as if that physicality is not in fact restricted to what we call the present. My body spans times. Perhaps it would be better for us to think that time is not merely linear, that it is open to more than the mere moment. Perhaps even to…eternity.”

A science student huffed from the back and said, “I can say what time is. Everything is relative.”

I grinned again. “Relative to what? Even when I think about Einstein, who shows us that we experience time differently at individual levels, as when I am standing here and someone else is on a train – yes? – then I am again confronted with more than one time, and I must ask how these times overlap. I must again ask whether time is more than it seems.”

“Everything is relative.”

“And so say that it is.” I shrugged. “Relative to what? Something is always relative to something else. It is always related to something else. So what is everything related to? What? It begs the question. Perhaps all is relative…to God.”

Silence from the classroom.

My scientists shrugged back at me. I had not turned hearts. But then, I had not tried to.

I smiled and stepped backward, energy slackening ever so slightly. I lifted my hands and did the best evil cackle that I could manage, celebrating my small victory as if it were villainous scheme. The room followed me with laughter.

Perhaps most times they will only remember that I hopped around and laughed. And perhaps that is good enough. Better they imagine someone happy to ask these questions. Better they imagine a Christian gleeful and goofy to hear them rather than a frown and an argument. Better a joyous loss, and others secretly won, than a grave conquest.

“From somber, serious, sullen saints, save us, O Lord.” – Catherine of Sienna

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2 thoughts on “Winning, Classrooms, Laughter. And God.

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have never thought of PTSD in that sense. Doctors have just told me what it is in a scientific sense. Never as a “physical memory, engrained in our nerves.” Very thought provoking.

    • As best as I understand it, one of the things happening in PTSD is a “programmed” neurological response to similar situations. The brain’s neurons fire up our fight-or-flight response system in reaction to what is perceived as a return of the original threat. What is striking to me about it is how thoroughly physical it is, while also being highly complex and psychologically distressing.

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