Mythology of Life: Time Capsules

Before the invention of recordable media like cave drawings, papyrus, cassettes, and e-mail, there was a silent form of communication that could tell tales of a time buried deep in the historic past, sealed in layers of sediment and concealed from the abrasions of the elements. The time capsule likely had unintentional beginnings in the ruins of a stone city or the tools of a prehistoric culture. In a half life, we can find the general timestamp of its passage through time to the eager present, unearthed by a curious mind.

In more recent times, the creation of the time capsule became less than subtle. Graduating classes, childhood friends, city celebrations, or even a grand experiment of preserving half of recorded history give us reason to stash our parting possessions into a coffee can, beneath a block of downtown, or into a climate controlled vault with the sole purpose that one day it will present itself to an anticipating audience. Perhaps it will be our older selves, our grandchildren, or the post-future Man. Regardless of the recipient, we seal the lid tightly with knowledge that our history, however inconsequential, has just been glazed in a sap that will, with time, encase our memories in amber.

The irony of the time capsule is that it often meets its demise to the very forces of time itself. In the arc of forgetting, the founders live their lives in days and lose track of the magic they conjured. In a sea of soil and ground cover, the time capsule becomes a speck, its exact whereabouts distorted in the flawed channels of memory and the transformation of known landmarks. Without an X to mark the spot, the treasure map is merely an atlas.

And what happens to the lonely capsule who has kept its mouth shut for far too long, anxious to spill its secrets? Like the proverbial tree in the forest, it falls on deaf ears. And if we did stumble upon its protruding edges, crack it open, and scatter its innards like confetti, would we even understand the message? Would it be too many pieces too unrecognizable to make any sense of it all, like a puzzle without a primer or a code without context? Or worse yet, would it elicit little more than a long drawn breath of disappointment, a lowered expectation of your treasure being little else but another's trash?

The flaw of the time capsule is its mundane cargo. Ticket stubs, coins, hats, daily machines, double prints of photos, or other impersonal possessions - what do these items convey? These are a few of my somewhat favorite things? See what I used today or how much a candy bar cost back then? Are we willing to part with what would truly explain who we are - our creations, our thoughts, the sum of our fears, and the lessons we learned through trial and triumph? And would the cargo then cease to be mundane yet somehow transform into the unrelatable and personalized?

All of this begs a pressing question. Who is the time capsule truly intended for? In a rush of blood to the brain, we gather a meager deposit with the romantic belief that it will accrue into treasures for others to discover. But perhaps we truly want to believe that if we contain our wishes and put them aside, they will eventually come true; that one day we will be the genie in the bottle. And finally, we will be released from our self-made prison so that we may be understood, recognized, and thought of fondly in a time and place of our choosing.

1 comment:

The Rememberer said...

A terribly reflective message, eloquently stated, with provocative thoughts to ponder. I'm of two minds. Both/and rather than either/or (a la kierkegaard). What I mean is: the mundane pieces do speak -- in a quotidian way, like Proust's madeleine. But, yes, they tell a very incomplete story -- not likely revealing the sum of all our fears. Something you said reminded me of "Invisible Cities" by Italo Calvino. Marco Polo sees Genghis Khan hold an hourglass (or was it vice versa, it's been 30+ plus yrs). Does the hourglass mean the land has lots of sand? Is shaped like an hourglass? Is a place where time passes slowly?

Thanks for your elegaic meditation, C.A.