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Dec 21, 2011

Does time exist?

We have arrived at the tail end of yet another year. For those of us with children, it might sometimes seem that as the children grow so quickly, the years pass that much faster. It does to me. End-of-the-year retrospectives are also much in vogue. I often dread them, especially as there are so many events that seemed like they occurred years ago rather than months. Does it also seem to you that each year starts off with a leisurely gait but ends up in a labored-breath sprint? 

As a geophysicist, I understand that when it comes to time, the word 'seems' is highly appropriate. Time is relative, we learned from Albert Einstein. Quantum physicists and cosmologists are now telling us that time may not even exist at all (
article.cfm?id=is-time-an-illusion). For a geo-person like myself, comparing the blink of a human lifespan to 4.5 billion years of Earth's evolution puts a different spin on.

But yet, we have markers for time. Milestones in our lives and our children's lives, birth, childhood, youth, middle-age, old age, and death, give us reasons to believe that time exists. And not just that. As we near the borders of middle-age, we feel the pressure of time, chances we no longer have or dreams we run to catch before it's too late. For young people, the pressure of time is felt in grabbing at the grails of secondary and higher education or apprenticeships and career ladders. 

When preparing the calendars for this double issue, I came across many dates to commemorate—markers of a different sort. There are special days for everything from maple syrup to human rights and many more too bizarre to contemplate. 

And there is that one day special to Americans (and Canadians!) where we choose to be thankful. Thanksgiving is my very favoritest of all holidays on this planet and maybe even the galaxy (Walk Like a Venutian Day comes a close second). Although historically Thanksgiving has Christian underpinnings, it is usually celebrated in America today as secular, free from any burden of gift-giving and, if honored traditionally, brings friends and family together in the joy of a shared meal. Many choose to express their thanks on this day by acts of charity—also in the best of Thanksgiving traditions. 

But yet, maybe imagining that time does not exist is not such a bad idea after all—especially this time of year and on this particular day. All of us have things we are thankful for, and stepping out of time to recognize these things, apart from everything else whizzing past us, is perhaps a Most Wonderful Thing. Being thankful allows us, just for that one ephemeral breath, to forget that time exists, bringing the luster of meaning to our mortality. That is the beauty of giving thanks.