(1) Richard Roe (2015)
On an early winter afternoon, cold and covered in snow, when only the withered branches, which like fingers grabbed at the sky, characterised the landscape, a man walked down the small road to Greenhill Fort.
The country house in the Jacobean style placed itself in strong contrast to the colourless plain, featuring neither hills nor mountains, and illuminated with the help of its fairy lights, which shone through the building’s countless windows, the lonesome path of the man.
The man, who was characterised by his inconspicuous appearance, was neither old nor young, and he was neither handsome nor ugly. It seemed as though his exceptional commonness let him merge with his surroundings, declining him a distinctive feature. His presence would go unnoticed if it weren’t for the even sound of swirling thoughts that surrounded him.
As the man reached the house, he didn’t aim for the impressive bronze door, which was flanked by two black lions spying bile, but for the backyard. It was a dark place, far away from the fairy lights and whelmed by grey dreariness. All the available light was shielded by high walls and merely the weeds between the breakages of the grey stone tiles on the ground brightened the darkness.
The man breathed heavily, agitated by the certainty of finally realising his never sleeping dream. His body was tensed up, his lips pressed tightly onto each other, and yet–one could observe the trace of a smile on the otherwise blank face.
Before the man opened the old back door made of robinia wood, he stopped. Through some small cracks in the door, he could hear an even humming noise. His hand reached for the black door knob, twisting it twice to the right before he entered the building. Drawn by an invisible rope, he hurried to the nearest room.
It was a large rectangular room with two ceiling-high windows, hidden under dust-swept curtains, which were hardly touched by the soft light of the six hand-sized lamps which clung to the ceiling, as though they’d otherwise be drowning in the dark void. In the middle of the room was a massive wooden table which was surrounded by four simple chairs. Only at the second glance, one could see a man sitting in one of the chairs. His unobtrusive appearance let him nearly blend into the emptiness of the room. The man was neither old nor young, and neither was he handsome nor ugly, albeit the bright light of the laptop distorted his facial features.
‘Welcome,’ the man said while leaning forward. “I’m glad you’re finally here. I hope your journey was pleasant? I know; it’s a bit cold, but we needed some atmosphere, didn’t we? I like the winter with its subtle notion of death.’ He laughed; a hard, guttural sound escaped his throat. He stopped abruptly and said in a firm voice:
‘Come closer, please, let me see you, Richard Roe.’ The man hesitated, but then he stepped forward, his bare feet nearly inaudible on the wooden ground. The soft light of the ceiling lamps drove away the shadows which had afore lingered on his body. Brown hairs and green eyes were prominent on the otherwise blank expression, and the warm light enveloped his naked body.
‘Very well,’ said the man after a short silence. ‘You could be a bit taller, Richard, but otherwise, you’re fine. Don’t you think? You’re a fine young man.’ The man turned toward his laptop and started typing, and again the room was filled with the humming sound of swirling thoughts.
“Who are you?” Richard asked in a low and rough voice. He had observed the other man for some time, but he couldn’t think of a name. Without looking up, the man answered: ‘I’m nobody of importance.’
‘And I? Who am I?’ His eyes scanned the room, as though the answers were written on the stone walls.
‘You are—’ the man sighed, leaving his sentences unfinished. He placed his head in his hand and stared at Richard: ‘You are an escapist of stagnation; a wanderer travelling without the boundaries of space and time. You will soon die, you know,’ fear reflected in Richard’s eyes, ‘but you’ll be born again. You are a creature made by skilled dreams. You are. That’s all you need to know today.’ The man got up and reached for Richard’s right arm. As their hands touched, Richard could see the same black mark on both their arms. ‘You are me,’ the man whispered. ‘Farwell.’ Richard’s eyes widened in recognition, but it was too late. The man easily removed the grip and turned around. He went to the table and closed the laptop. Accompanied by the sound of swirling thoughts, the room dissolved into nothingness.
(2) Socratic Dialogue: Time
A joiner is stacking crosses on a cart at his joinery as Joe Bonham approaches him.
Joe: I need your help. There’s something that bothers me and I simply can’t wrap my head around it. Can you spare me a minute?
Joiner: Son, a minute I can spare – but no more. You see, I have a lot to do.
Joe: Thank you, joiner. It’s time itself, I don’t understand anymore. Back then, when I still worked at the bakery, I understood time. It was quite simple. I worked at night and slept during the day. I knew when I had to get up, or which day it was. I could read the clock, and time was easy to understand, but now? You see, after being hit by a shell, I lost everything: my eyes, my ears, my tongue, my arms, and my legs. The only thing left is my mind. Please tell me, how to think of time now that I do neither belong to the living nor the dead.
Joiner: You may have changed, but time hasn’t. Why not measure it like before?
Joe: Because I can’t! Time is a measure of change, and I can neither see change nor change myself anymore. I’m shut out of the natural change of weekdays, hours, months, and even years. I’m trapped in my mind, and I don’t even know whether it’s the present or the past I’m living in.
Joiner: Let me think for a second. When I go home after a long day of work, and rest my feet in front of the chimney fire and stare into the dark because I can’t sleep, dawn will break after all – despite my ignorance, despite my stagnation. Why does this happen then if I don’t change?
Joe: Maybe we don’t need to change at all; maybe time exists independently of motion or change.
Joiner: If time exists without motion and change, why do we measure it at all?
Joe: Because of God.
Joe: Time existed before God, but God created a measurement. He created day and night because He needed seven days to build the world.
Joiner: But time is not only represented in days. Do we not have hours, minutes, and seconds as well? And what is about years, decades?
Joe: We need them because we aren’t God. Our lives are short. We need more time, and so we created minutes and seconds.
Joiner: So we merely have different names for time but, in the end, it still is time? So time is just one infinite large event?
Joe: Not one infinite large event. We have birthdays and holidays to remember, appointments and workdays. I want to remember Kareen’s birthday again. I want to celebrate with her!
Joiner: Does that mean that time is created by humans after all?
Joe: I don’t know. I would have never created minutes or days. It is all the same for me now. I just need to know how to make a distinction on a larger scale of time – between the present and the past.
Joiner: And what is about the future?
Joe: Don’t you see? There can’t be a future if I’m not able to hold on to the present. I’m scared. I’m so scared. Help me.
Joiner: But do I not live in the present?
Joe: I don’t know. I don’t know if you are real or just a ghost of my past haunting me.
Joiner: So only the present is real?
Joe: Yes, if something is real, then it can only be real now.
Joiner: Then it is quite simple, isn’t it? You and I, we both are real because we both are here now. This is the present, and yet I wonder. My brother died two years ago, and I still carry this ring and his memories with me, but those are memories from the past. Does that mean they are not real?
Joe: They are not the past because you’re remembering them now, and you’re wearing the ring now.
Joiner: I see, but my memories were created in the past. I don’t make them up. They’ve been here in my heart for a very long time. And here, touch my ring if you like. It’s very solid. Don’t you think, the past is also real?
Joe: Yes, yes, both are real. Kareen was real, and Kareen is real. I loved her, and I love her. I see. Both the present and the past are real. They are the same, aren’t they? It does not really matter anymore. The present is the past because the present exists for just a short moment before it changes and transforms into the past.
Joiner: Stop, Joe. I can’t follow you. If the present and the past are the same, then why is my brother not here with me? He’d help me to make more crosses.
Joe: No, he is dead, and so is his time.
Joiner: So time is something personal, even subjective?
Joe: Yes, it is personal. You have your and I have my time, but it is not subjective. How can it be if we all use the same measurement?
Joiner: But I thought clocks could only measure hours and minutes, but not the present and the past.
Joe: I don’t know, joiner. I don’t know. I just wished I’d have lost my mind as well back then. Without my mind, time wouldn’t exist, but now I’m left with a mind that confuses the present and the past – this drives me mad! And if I don’t know the time, if I don’t know whether I live in the present or past, I won’t be part of tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
Joiner: Oh, Joe. I don’t know much, but I know that you’re wrong in one point: Even without a mind, time would exist. Look at all the animals and how they know when to get up and when to eat. They are aware of time as well, don’t you think?
Joe: No, they are not. How can they be aware of time, if they only live in the present? They don’t care about the past or the future.
Joiner: But how can time be made of the past, the present, and the future if neither the past nor the future is real? Does that mean, time itself is not real as well?
Joe: Does that mean, time itself is not real? Didn’t you listen to me, joiner? Time is real. Why else would we measure it?
The joiner stops stacking crosses on the cart and looks at Joe.
Joiner: I see, and at the same time I don’t. Joe, I’m afraid I can’t help you. I’m not a well- educated man. I don’t understand many things. I just know that this question brings us back to the beginning. Don’t you see? You want to measure it again, and yet you can’t. I don’t know how to help you; I just know, I have no minute to spare anymore because I have to deliver these crosses in time. Goodbye, Joe.