Event horizon

February 27, 2020

For physicists, an event horizon is that boundary beyond which events can’t affect the observer. 

 

I once carried a sizable chunk of Gowganda Tillite across Ontario. At the time, this foundational bedrock for some considerable North American real estate was a contender for the oldest rock formation on Earth -- having been dated at around 2.2 billion years B.C.E. 

 

The sample is on loan right now to the artist, Dave Cole. He wants to make a bronze cast of it. Dave is a bit transgressive, so it’s paradoxical he wants to be the one who casts the first stone. 

 

I have a strong pull to live in the moment. So it’s paradoxical I hold this reminder of events unimaginably beyond what could affect me. In its presence I try to assess the relative importance of my actions, “Will this still matter in 2.2 billion years?”  So far, the answer has been no. 

 

Twenty years ago, my elderly neighbor planted a sugar maple. “I won’t live to tap it,” he told me, “but someone will.”  Sure enough, this spring someone will draw sap well outside of Maynard’s event horizon. 

 

In our work, we strive to achieve kairos: ancient Greek for the optimum thing at the optimum time. Maynard achieved kairos when he planted because the optimum time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the second best time is now.

 

Maynard’s action is tugging at me. He did something of impact outside of his event horizon twenty years ago that’s putting me in motion today. He didn’t just plant a tree that day. I find that he planted something in me. 

 

I’ve been sitting here looking for something I can do with what’s left of today, in this now, that if I don’t, twenty years from now will have to settle for second best.

 

Which leads me to another Greek word: hubris. I’ve had n = the number of todays I’ve engaged, and n - 1 = the number of yesterdays, but I’ve never encountered a tomorrow. Lightning, hurricane, or road widening could have taken that tree. Let tomorrow worry for itself. Let today’s tasks be sufficient for today. As for 2.2 billion years from now? Whatever. 

 

At the same time, perhaps my artist friend isn’t the only one who feels transgressive. 

 

Gentle reader, will you accept from me the seed of an idea from the idea of Maynard’s tree?  Will you plant something today that might, maybe, whatever, optimize in two decades? 

 

While you’re doing that, I’m going to write a letter to my nephew. 

 

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