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.