Getting older is riding the gyre of a whirlpool. In your youth, at the far edges, motion and time are almost imperceptible. In your 20s the far edge is distant and there’s still sun over the horizon. Then as you get older the spin gets faster, years slip by, and you realize you’re closer to the unknown darkness than the sky. At some point the whirlpool is so fast, its wall so steep, that you can reach out to the far side and trail your fingers in a silver wake like a surfer pressing his fingertips into the mercury face of a wave. Now you can touch past years to memories you thought were gone and buried in the dust of your mind. I can access my high school years and emotions with such clarity that in dreams it’s as if no time has passed. This too is the condition of being deep in the whirlpool: reality begins to wear thin like an old shirt and sometimes ragged holes are left through which you can spy everything else. Stars are out there, dreams, places that don’t or can’t exist.
See if you can follow this train of thought: first I was thinking about the Chunnel between England and France, then thought about how eventually the island of Great Britain would move in relation to the European mainland and the Chunnel would need modification. But by then the human race would be gone. Then time moved faster and I thought of the tectonic plates moving, of the Earth aging, of our sun flaring out, our galaxy spinning ever outward into black nothingness. This led me to the nature of the universe itself and to a singular and terrifying thought: how can there be nothing at the boundary of the universe? And if, as some theories posit, the universe is a one-time event starting from the Big Bang and ending with a complete neutralization of energy and matter, how can there be nothing?
Believe me, these two things–the gyre of aging and the possibility of nothing–go together. Our human capacity for thought beyond survival differentiates from all other life forms that we know of. It’s a benefit to our species but often a weight on our already preoccupied minds. This holiday season, set aside some time to sit and think. Not with a television on or headphones plunged into your ears, just you and your thoughts. See if you can feel the spin of the whirlpool but mind the gaps. Happy holidays.