Time Tables and Being out of Time

Time has been on my mind. Yes, because I’ve been reading (and just completed) The Time Traveller’s Wife, but also because time has long been on my mind. This song, Time Table, is an old, old example of time in my consciousness and subconscious. It’s a favourite of mine since I first bought the album, Genesis’ Foxtrot, from a department store cutout bin in the mid ’70s. I think it cost me $1.99, and I recall buying it primarily for the visual qualities of the cover — unusual, evocative, strange, alluring. The music was no less so, for the qualities of its ‘sound’, the depth and complexity of its composition, and for the lyrics which transported me far, far away from the rural New Hampshire resort town I lived in. I loved it immediately. Still do. Perhaps I always will (and always have.)

I’m not sure how many years of listening passed before I recognised in the lyrics of Time Table a sense of deja vu, of repeated lifetimes, of reincarnation. The words seem to me sung in the first person, a man standing in the ruins of an old castle, seeing a moment in time lived centuries before, and recalling the way of life that is altogether lost, and yet remains altogether the same. “It seems because through time and space/Though names may change each face retains the mask it wore.”

Time Table

A carved oak table,
Tells a tale
Of times when kings and queens sipped wine from goblets gold,
And the brave would lead their ladies from out of the room
to arbours cool.
 
A time of valour, and legends born
A time when honour meant much more to a man than life
And the days knew only strife to tell right from wrong
Through lance and sword.
 
Why, why can we never be sure till we die
Or have killed for an answer,
Why, why do we suffer each race to believe
That no race has been grander
It seems because through time and space
Though names may change each face retains the mask it wore.
 
A dusty table
Musty smells
Tarnished silver lies discarded upon the floor
Only feeble light descends through a film of grey
That scars the panes.
Gone the carving,
And those who left their mark,
Gone the kings and queens now only the rats hold sway
And the weak must die according to nature’s law
As old as they.
 
Why, why can we never be sure till we die
Or have killed for an answer,
Why, why do we suffer each race to believe
That no race has been grander
It seems because through time and space
Though names may change each face retains the mask it wore.


For months I have been feeling out of place, as if I should be somewhere else, yet not entirely convinced where that somewhere else should be, and finding no clear path leading to anywhere but where I already am. But this past week, I am feeling like I am, instead, out of time. Rather than not being where I should be, I am not when I should be.

Like the time traveller’s wife, I cannot be when I want to be.

So I remind myself, that who I am is independent of where I am, or when. Time and space throw their own curveballs at us, local conditions of chronology and geography, expectations of cultures and governments, families and friends, but these are only external conditions. They do not define us. What defines us, our karma if you will, is our response to them. It matters less when or where we are so much as how, and why.

“But don’t you think,” I persist, “that it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just ok for your whole life?”

~ The Time Traveller’s Wife



 

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