The Open that Gradually Closes

The Open that Gradually ClosesAre we hiding from reality, living in an abstract dream world of what could be our future?

A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading the formidable A Heart So White by Javier Marías, a haunting and slow novel about an interpreter who, as he gets married, dives into his own biography and the history of his family. As he gets deeper into it, he encounters confusing memories – and some dark secrets in the earlier life of his father that give him some riddles to solve.
The interpreter is the narrator of the novel, and as such, a character of reflection and constant mental inquiry, obsessed with words and language, and especially the impact that a simple word, spoken at the right moment, might or might not have.

At one point in the novel, he remembers a girl that worked in a paper store he used to frequent as a schoolboy. The interpreter fell childishly in love with her, visiting the store day after day, just to look at her, but without ever exchanging more than a couple of words, without ever letting her know of his feelings. In the present of the novel, the store still exists. But the once lovely and intruiguing girl has become what appears to be a boring and poorly dressed woman that “nobody admires anymore” – not even the narrator himself, who now sees her in a disillusioned way: Her once beautiful eyes appear tired, her clothes look boring, her fingernails are broken.

He asks himself if things could have been different if only had he confessed her his love at that time of his childhood; if it would have helped her to leave the “comfortable abstract future” in favor of making real choices, taking action, seizing the opportunity presented in “the open that gradually closes”.

While you may ask if the narrator doesn’t have a psychological problem himself, showing what may well be an pathological inflated ego, I found this quote to be particularly beautiful – and useful in a context of time philosophy. “The open that gradually closes” is what we call the present, the point where what once was a dream of the future can become something real and tangible – or its moment can slip, maybe forever.

Of course, this is another area of our lives where we have to create an equilibrium, like Michael J. Gagnon pointed out so thoughtfully in his comment to my post on balance: Human condition leaves us at an intermediate position between what we perceive as past, and what we perceive as future.* We have to find a balance between living like it was our last day on Earth and preparing for a future life that may well last another couple of decades. We even should consider the future that’s farther away, giving a fair opportunity to our descendants to live on a planet that’s not totally polluted and destroyed.

But what’s necessary in any case is what Javier Marías outlines so powerful in just a couple of words: We have to leave the “comfortable abstract future” that only exists on our imagination – in order to enjoy both the moment and to build something worth living for in times to come. If we don’t do that, the opportunities that still are open in our lives may close sooner than we’d like to believe.

*) I say “perceive” because the factuality of this perception can be debated. For reference, take a moment to read my post on time independence.


  1. You hit that spot with this:

    We have to find a balance between living like it was our last day on Earth and preparing for a future life that may well last another couple of decades.

    everyone saying “what would you do if this was your last day?” has not even thought about it, because what you would do has nothing to do with your life passion or whatever: you would spend your time with your loved ones, period. Think about what Homer Simpson does when he thinks he has eaten poisoned fugu! He does nothing related with “his life passion”.

    Living in the present, buddhist style is also not an option: we have to strike a balance. So true!

    Well, enough random digressing. I’ll go pick a coffee ;)



    1. Whoa, the famous nutella coffee… at least I just had a great capuccino myself, so I’m okay for the day! ;)
      As for the last day, I think you’re right. I would also try to be with my loved ones, although many of them are a 24h voyage from where I am… so I might as well get the best bottle of rum available and sit down at the beach! :)

  2. The Amazon link for the book A Heart So White has no reviews. The book was awarded the IMPAC, “Javier Marias was presented with the 2nd International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award by the President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, at a gala dinner in Dublin on 14th June 1997. He received a cheque for £75,000 while translator, Margaret Jull Costa, received £25,000.”
    A book of this caliber with zero reviews speaks to doorknobs that have never been turned.

    Thanks for keeping A Heart So White ajar Fabian.

    1. Thanks for adding this info, Jonathan! Marías is a first grade writer and at least in Germany (probably Europe) also very popular. There is another edition of the book available that has got many reviews. I have to admit that I opted to link to the other one because of the much more beautiful cover…

      1. You are correct the cover you linked to is beautiful.

        Pulling on the threads of life’s tapestry is always on my mind. I have missed many an opportunity, and try as I might I know I will miss many more.
        Say la vee, so let us leave that “comfortable abstract future” and undo hindsight’s grasp confessing our love of this life right now.

        1. Absolutely. In that sense, it’s not just about the “comfortable abstract future”, but also about the probably “uncomfortable concrete past”…

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