Monday, March 10, 2014

"Wibbly wobbly...timey wimey... stuff."

As a TARDIS searcher and Doctor Who fan, the idea of Tralfamadore is fantastic; they challenge the human perception of time and death. According to the Billy, “The most important thing [he] learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist” (26). The Tralfamadorian understanding of death, particularly that people “only [appear] to die” extracts the fear that death usually evokes. Also, the repetition of “So it goes” whenever Billy talks about death undermines death and further extracts fear. With the fear of death gone, I suspect that one’s life could be enriched and the paralysis of uncertainty after death would no longer be intimidating.
When I was in elementary school, in the 4th grade, about 9 years old, I sometimes would lie awake with the fear of death on the inside of my eyelids. My breathing would slow down and I felt as if I could feel my existence trapped in my lungs. Unable to sleep, I would carefully go downstairs to not wake anyone up, and check all the doors to make sure they were locked. I didn’t like looking back because I was scared of the dark, too. One night, I crept into my mom’s bed and asked her what happens when we die. “We meet God and talk to Him,” she replied. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Why are you awake?” she asked back. “I’m scared of dying,” I cried. I asked her to promise me that when she dies, she’d come back to me and tell me what happens. She promised and I finally fell asleep in her arms.
The possibility someone who passed away being alive in the past, present, and future rationally makes sense when acknowledged as “memory,” but in the Tralfamadorian context and in the narrator’s experience, they still literally exist. The narrator presents time theory when he states, “It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition that particular moment, but that same person is just fine in plenty of other moments” (27). This passage poses the possibility of multiple entryways to the same reality, like Doctor Who’s TARDIS traveling to different planets and different eras. Humans are limited in that our version of time travel is through memory. Billy, however, has the ability to travel through time, granted, he doesn’t have control over his location or era. Toward the end of the novel, the echo of Montana Wildhack and the “photograph of a woman and a Shetland pony” signifies that there are reentry points and intersecting images and events that lead to whatever “present” moment Billy experiences (205). In addition, the understatement when the narrator states “One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘Poo-tee-weet?’” signifies how much more there is to learn beyond sense perception and conventional beliefs (215).
When I’m volunteering at Tunbridge, all my other tasks are put on a happy hold. When I’m working with the first graders with reading, writing, and playing games, I barely check the time. There is a balance between the quality and duration of time. I’m there two hours a week, but the activities that fill those two hours feel timeless, like there’s no other place I would rather be. I would not like to experience life the way Billy does. I like my earthly perception of my experiences. To an extent, there is something comforting about order, knowing where you are, where you were, and where you will be. Having to continually get acquainted with the time and place seems unnerving and aberrant. Then again, the structure of the novel is quite strange. The first chapter is the last written part but it is presented first. After having read the novel, I very much appreciate the human experience of having events occur one at a time.

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