Twenty Blinks

When I was young, the concept of a thousand years was too vast for my comprehension. When reading about historical events that long ago or hearing stories about our family that far back, they seemed too remote to be real. Thousand years seemed an interminable amount of time, not too different from epochs of geologic scale such as the Big Bang or the book of Genesis.

Now I am forty-four and, casually rounding up, have lived almost a half century. It sounds trite but some days it feels like those nifty near-fifty years went by in a blink. Then one day, as I was helping put on shoes for my six-year-old son (wasn’t it yesterday I was in his shoes?), he declared, “Daddy, it takes only twenty fifties to make a thousand. A thousand is really a small number.” I barely recall finishing tying his shoes.

I now comprehend what fifty years feel like, and if I could link twenty of my lives end-to-end, that’s a thousand years. Twenty blinks, that’s all. Suddenly, a thousand years hardly feels long anymore. Rather, it feels shockingly accessible. Indeed, line up two hundred of my lives end-to-end, and that’s already ten thousand years, which is just about the dawn of human civilization and by some calculation is before the book of Genesis.

It is often said that the longer we all live, the smaller the world feels. The longer I have lived, the smaller Time feels. I feel so much closer, not only to others on this planet today but also to those who came before us and who will come after us.

All of civilization — roads, books, fusion reactors, cities, medicines, cell phones, languages, gazillion web pages, the Musée du Louvre, pizza, and moon rockets — have been rendered by the few billion (another now-small number) people in just twenty blinks. The human arc is nothing short of a miracle.

Originally published in The Journal of the Palo Alto Institute on June 2012.