When we read the Torah, time appears to pass at the same rate as we are reading. True, the text may say “40 days and 40 nights,” but for us, it is more like 40 seconds. The wait is in our imaginations, and therefore a matter of intellectual surmise.
But if the story took place in real time, that same time span would last from April to the middle of May. How much might have happened in between! We might even forget the purpose of the story somewhere along day three or four.
In our information age, narrative and experience seem intertwined. We want stories now: prelude, beginning, middle, end, sequel. And especially if the story/experience cannot provide a continual source of suspense and enticement, we become impatient.
As I listen to people discuss the war we are fighting in Iraq, I am struck with the lack of patience they have. Those who support the pursuit of intervention continually raise the expectation that total victory is just around the corner. Those who oppose military action have raised a hue and cry about suffering and inhumanity as if deprivation from warfare is a surprise. Both sides want resolution now, and each acts as if the context of the conflict can be summed up in a single sound-bite.
We are poised at the beginning of a new period of history. It is not disconnected from the past. Indeed, there really is no such thing as “the past” at the dawn of a new age – history is written only from a distance in time.
The more impatient people feel, the more likely they are to take exception with my premise. “It is not the past that is at issue! Our concern is the future – and whether there will be one!” While I applaud the passion, and even share some of it, the fact is that tomorrow will arrive no sooner than yesterday recedes. It is possible for us to act on principle without forgetting to listen to others.
Perhaps it is small consolation in these troubled times, but we must experience war as we experience peace – in its own time. How long, Lord? Only You know.