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Suszynski: The deluge

In the very back of Ruth Ozeki’s novel “A Tale for the Time Being,” where it is easy to miss, Appendix A: Zen Moments reads: “The Zen nun Jiko Yasutani once told me in a dream that you can’t understand what it means to be alive on this earth until you understand the time being, and in order to understand the time being, she said, you have to understand what a moment is.”

First, you need to know a little bit about the main character who is speaking, Nao (which, if you are wondering, is pronounced “now”). She is a 16-year old, quirky and very lonely, living in Japan after having been uprooted by her parents from Silicon Valley. She hangs out in maid cafes, which are cosplay restaurants, with her journal stuck in an old cover of the book “À la recherche du temps perdu” (“In Search of Lost Time”) by Par Marcel Proust. Old Jiko is her great grandmother.

Old Jiko tells her, “A moment is a very small particle of time. It is so small that one day is made of 6,400,099,980 moments.” She’s referring to the same number that the nonfictional Zen Master Dōgen cited in his masterwork. In fact, this Zen master wrote of what the Japanese character uji (“time being”) means in a poem that also begins the book.

I try snapping my own fingers. That seemingly small quantity of time equals 65 moments according to old Jiko, “you can just take Jiko’s word for it.”

“If you start snapping your fingers now and continue snapping 98,463,077 times without stopping, the sun will rise and the sun will set, and the sky will grow dark and the night will deepen,” old Jiko says.

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Ever since I read this book almost five years ago now, I unconsciously snap my fingers. I try to be cognizant of all the snaps I have wasted, or maybe all the snaps that I have used well.

“Until finally, sometimes after daybreak, when you finish up your 98,463,077th snap, you will experience the truly intimate awareness of knowing exactly how you spent every single moment of a single day of your life.”

I have never made it past 30 minutes of snapping. I tried, at an alpine lake once, at the top of Deluge Lake trail in East Vail. Like Zen Master Dōgen says in his poem, “For the time being stand on top of the highest peak;” I tried to do exactly that. After 30 minutes, I saw a marmot. He kept creeping closer, real cute, and I eventually lost track of the number of moments that had passed.

“The thought experiment she proposed was certainly odd, but her point was simple. Everything in the universe is constantly changing, and nothings stays the same, and we must understand how quickly times flows by if we are to wake up early and truly live our lives,” Nao tells us.

How many moments are in eight minutes 46 seconds? There are 38,963,571.64 moments, which means that those four police officers could have fixed their fingers together and with a little friction, snapped a crisp 599,439.56 times as they partook in killing George Floyd.  

Is a moment a duration? I believe a moment to be deep. A moment can be wide. In an instant, I would not have the time to think. But in a moment, I can conceive of an idea. How many ideas can one conceive in eight minutes and 46 seconds then? Simple, 38,963,571.64 ideas.

In Spanish, there is a saying: el momento de la verdad. It’s a calque, or loan translation. I came across it in my grandmother’s writing a few times and I’ve adopted it. In direct translation, it just means the moment of truth. But the origin is quite interesting; it comes from the final moment that a bullfighter thrusts his sword into the bull. The final moment. Not the 38,963,570.64 moments leading up to it.

I latched onto el momento de la verdad because it reminds me of another term that I love that relates to our mountain communities: the angle of repose. The last angle before a granular material falls into disarray. It’s a mining term. You can also attribute its meaning to a quantity, the moment can equal an angle between 0 and 90 degrees. But this angle still implies that you are piling on. Piling on the sediment of mined mountainside. Piling until that hill cannot take the weight anymore.

Moments have become much deeper in the last week. The angle of repose, el momento de la verdad — is here. Time does flow quickly and in these deciding moments, I am snapping. I am trying to be conscious.

We are all time beings, all capable of snapping our fingers and using every moment to think. We are capable of standing on the precipice with our neighbors and fellow time beings, not letting this moment of truth go unrecognized. Not letting the angle fall into disarray, but building each other up until we cannot be toppled.  

Anna Suszynski is a copy editor at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at asuszynski@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Instagram @annasuszynski or on Twitter @anna_suszynski.


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