The stream of commuters at the end of the work day stands for the wider course of one’s lifetime, flowing in one direction like a great river or like a parade of fellow travelers rising and falling on the contours and curves of the land, and passing landmarks along the way that stand out in one person’s mind for memories attached, hopes pinned, or for some thought triggered by the sight.But there is something curious that goes on in the minds of the people in their cars on the road of life, day by day, outbound at the start of work and returning at the end of work. It is the same for the rest of us outside the stream of cars, too. All of us feel that the present moment is wider than the fraction of a second captured by a photographer’s finger releasing the shutter. And yet, objectively speaking, there is less than a fraction of a second that occurs between what is yet to come (the future) and what just took place (the past). Our minds show us that an hour is a very long time (when we are pre-school age), or slightly long (when we are school age), or not long (during young adult and middle-age years), or nothing at all (in later life). And yet, objectively speaking, the passage of an hour is the same in all decades of our lives.
Likewise our minds show us that we occupy an arena of present-tense possibilities –things within easy reach that we could potentially accomplish or act upon, as well as things that may be theoretically possible if only we had the social connections, money, will-power, opportunity or motive to act upon. We dwell in this comfortable space of potential; a world of what we could do or who we could be, if we so desired to act upon what enters our minds. And yet, objectively speaking, during the time that we are psychologically occupying this world of possible actions, there is a continuous flow from what is yet to come into what has already passed. It would be truer to say that we live on the knife-edge of what could be (on one side of the blade) and what cannot be (on the other side of the blade) since circumstances have now passed.
The poet from Northern Ireland, Michael Longley, was interviewed in April 2018 by Krista Tippett for On Being, onbeing.org, and described poets as the historians of words who knows their roots intimately. A poet uses the words with precision like living organs – only when all the right words are in the right place does the lyric come miraculously to life. The poet makes ordinary things vivid and lively, making the familiar become strange, new, or exotic. Perhaps the same is true of photo walks and the habit of mind for framing scenes as the light, lines, and colors speak quietly to the photographer. By means of the lens, shutter, and exposure somebody who sees the world with this aid can develop more intense vision of the ordinary things all around. The routine things along the road of life become even more vivid than they already are. And so we can see the world in a grain of sand, or look at the line of commuters paused at the red light and imagine the illusory wide-open present possibilities that we all occupy, against all objective forces that limit the actionable present to the fraction of a second between that which is yet to come and that which has already passed by.