A Brief Time of History
by Alan Allegra
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I know this title borders on plagiarism, but I don’t imagine Stephen Hawking will read this. In 1988, his blockbuster book, A Brief History of Time, sold one copy for every 750 people on earth, and remained a bestseller for 237 weeks! For someone who can communicate only by twitching his right cheek, that’s very impressive. But, why not? After all, to a man who can think in 11 dimensions, what’s 237 weeks?
In his book, Hawking attempts to help nonscientists understand questions ranging from “Where did the universe come from?” to “How will the universe end?” It is deep reading, and he believes the reward of understanding the universe may be a glimpse of “the mind of God.” Climbing the mountain of his thoughts is arduous, but perhaps not as arduous as Hawking’s journey through life.
A brief history of the physicist’s life includes crippling motor neurone disease and a tracheotomy that left him speechless. This man who outlived his death sentence by over 40 years talks by controlling a computer with twitches of his right cheek. Communicating with him can be agonizing, because it may take 20 minutes for him to express a single thought. Through it all, Hawking has learned patience.
Time is a difficult concept to grasp. How do you explain it? Most of us believe there was no time before creation. Try to understand that! Time can be measured but not controlled. We all exist in time, and for different periods of time. We look back to milestones, measure the length of time between major life events, and count down to future goals with anticipation.
Living can be likened to driving a car, albeit a car that is out of control. We drive straight on at the same speed, in the same direction, but in different cars, crossing different intersections. It is only our circumstances that seem to make the car move faster or slower.
Thinking about the past is like looking in the rear view mirror. The events and associated feelings get smaller and smaller, sometimes fading entirely from view over the sunset edge of memory, or just getting blurred in the fog of weakening synapses.
As a writer, I know how deadlines can sneak up on us. I have a saying: “May time pass quickly in your sorrows and plod slowly toward your deadlines.” Sometimes, we look in the side mirrors of the vehicle of life and see a big eye that belongs to a deadline that is about to overtake us. It doesn’t help that the fine print in the mirror says, “Objects are closer than they appear!”
When we are lonely, scared, weary, bored, impatient or angry, time moves at a snail’s pace. When we are enjoying ourselves, we don’t notice the gremlins turning our watches ahead. There is something about the way we live that appears to affect time.
Stephen Hawking has learned to cope with taking 20 minutes to say what we can speak in seconds. Interviewers, however, get frustrated because they don’t get what they want in the same amount of time. Dr. Hawking has learned to patiently wait for the expected outcome. His is not a microwave universe. All of his genius, fame, wealth, and influence can’t make time go faster.
Sometimes, we treat God like our cosmic drive-thru. We want Him to take our order and have it ready when we arrive at the window. But God doesn’t work like that. He is more the prime rib chef than the burger flipper. His blessings usually take time to perfect, and are always better for us than we expect. God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, NKJV).
We want to drive faster, especially when we look in the rear view mirror and see the flashing red light of trouble catching up to us. The patriarch Job, whose stable of vehicles was limited to donkeys and camels, suffered more than we ever will. He, like Hawking, learned patience through trial. “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11). It’s when time travels slowly that we learn to wait.
I loved my HO scale trains and slot cars. I could get lost in my little world of miniature boxcars and Batmobiles. We get lost in our little worlds and want to control everything. God, looking down from heaven, sees our little worlds like we see tiny towns from an airplane. From God’s eternal viewpoint, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). God has all the time in the world, and out of it as well. He often takes time to perfect us and ready us for our eternal future. Our part is to let Him work, and to learn the lessons that will prepare our character for His kingdom. And there is no time to waste.
After all, we are only here for a brief time of history.
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