Travel has always been illuminating for me—every place I visit presents me with experiences that shed light on things I was previously unable to fully understand. That this is so, is only natural to Mrs. Trang, an urban planner from a university in Hanoi. She introduces me to Psychogeography. Psychogeography is an urban planning concept which suggests that our geographical surroundings have a psychological impact on our emotions and, hence, our behaviors. According to Mrs. Trang, when designing a city, urban planners must first know the kind of feeling(s) they wish the inhabitants to experience. Only then will the urban planner be able to determine such things as building design to the kinds of trees and flowers to be planted. All of these elements, she says, will allow a city to emanate certain vibes—“Every city has its own personality.” These vibes are designed to affect the way people think and act. Therefore, it should be no surprise if people are to some extent different whenever they change their geographical locations.
Psychogeography is also a concept that allows me to better grasp the concept of Inshallah, a religious concept central to my own personal and professional life. The term Inshallah simply means “God willing” or “If God wills.” Muslims ought to say it, instead of “I will,” whenever they agreed or “promise” to do something in the future for another party. Looking at the practice of Inshallah from Arendt’s perspective, it appears as a social transaction of advanced request for forgiveness from the party who makes a promise, and a guaranteed release of forgiveness from the party to whom the promise is made. This social transaction of forgiveness would be important when the first party, for whatever reason, is unable to keep their promise. Such failure produces certain effects such as distrust or contempt which is, to some degree, damaging to the relationship between them. However, within the Muslim community, such negative effects are likely mitigated because forgiveness (understanding) has been given upfront, i.e. when they say “Insha’Allah” (“If God allows me to do so”). Accordingly, the practice Inshallah offers a remedy for the damage that is not even there yet.
The practice of Inshallah does offer an insight into the irreversible and unpredictable nature of human action and its redemption, as Hannah Arendt mentioned in The Human Condition. Once a certain deed is performed, the consequences exceed time and space and are unforeseeable and impossible to undo. If the consequence is negative, it prevents the related parties, especially the wrongdoers, from moving on with their lives. The way to free them from such an imprisonment, Arendt says, is through forgiveness. That way, the wrongdoer may release the guilt and the offended party is free from grudges. Then they will be able to interact with each other again, or at least, moving on with their lives. Finally, I should also like to say that to merely use the term Inshallah without genuine efforts to meet the promises is an irresponsible act that would also be damaging to social relationships.
One of the effects of the change in location that has always troubled me was that people are more likely to fail to meet their promises. Having many encounters of just such an experience, I lost my ability to trust people and their promises. But, after four years of psychological, religious and physical homelessness, I think the Psychgeography concept has just dissolved the grudge I have for people and promises. It helps me to see that there are many factors at play in the failure in meeting promises including pyschogeography. Thus, releasing my resentments and people I despised become a natural and personal process which does not need the presence of remorse, nor request from the offender, and, that is I think what Derrida meant by giving yourself the gift of forgiveness. Finally, pyschogeography has shown me the intelligibility of Inshallah, which is helpful in better understanding the dilemmatic religion vs. science relationship.
Time is infinite and finite.
It also doesn’t exist.
When I was five or six, my uncle, in his trademark wife beater and green factory pants, tried to teach me to tell time.
“What time is it?” He’d point to the white round clock on the wall over the stove in my grandmother’s yellow kitchen.
I stumbled. I stuttered.
“It’s a quarter to three,” he said, explaining the rules of the big hand and the little hand.
Nearly twenty years later, at a holiday gathering, I chatted about how quickly the year passed, a traditional New Year’s Eve conversation starter.
“You know,” my boyfriend’s brother said, “Time doesn’t exist anyway.”
“What?” I said. “Time exists.”
“No, it doesn’t,” he said. “Think about it. It’s made up. Someone had to create it.”
Before I could finish another counterpoint, he continued.
“I know, it blew my mind a few years ago when this professor told me. It’s crazy right?”
And so there I stood, a moment in time that would forever change my perspective of how I measured anything and everything.
For years after, I scurried down my own philosophical rabbit hole.
This must be why sometimes a minute feels like ten or an hour can feel like a minute?
The only things that are real are feelings and thoughts.
Did certain feelings and thoughts and experiences make the “time” go by faster?’’
And what about eternity? Made up too for sure. A hunch? Educated guess?
So then, what of age?
If time does not exist, then surely age is immeasurable.
I mean, who says? Is a year, a year simply because we agree?
Therefore, I conclude, I am ageless.
But the physical body, it declines. Surely evidence of the passage of something?
I propose my own theories: What if we believed we could live past 100? What if by defining or expecting the number of days and weeks we have, we’ve created a ticking time bomb?
These days, I’m not as obsessed as I had been.
But I still do find myself taking a minute (oh the irony) to remember that time is neither here nor there. A few seconds to reject the constructed and agreed upon reality that runs our lives.
In those moments, I think of one thing that is true.
An infinite and finite number of sunrises and sunsets.
Keysha Whitaker is the creator and host of Behind the Prose, a podcast that deconstructs the work of contemporary authors, essayists, and journalists.
When I was in high school, I often thought: I can’t wait to graduate and go to college so I can start my life.
By my third year in college, I thought: I can’t wait to graduate and get a job so I can start my life.
In my first 9 – 5, I’d sit at my desk at lunch and think:
I can’t wait until I get married so I can start my life.
I can’t wait until I get the job that I want.
I can’t wait until I get the car that I want.
I can’t wait until I get the apartment that I want.
I can’t wait until I get the . . .
I can’t wait until . . .
I can’t wait . . .
I thought and thought about how much I couldn’t wait until one day I realized that the truth was: I can’t wait.
I can’t wait for some outside circumstance to fall into place. I can’t wait for the lunar eclipse. I can’t wait for my lucky numbers from the astrology website. I can’t wait for the perfect job. I can’t wait for the perfect person. I can’t wait for the imperfect person to act right.
I can’t wait and neither can you.
The longer we dwell on how much we can’t wait for something, all we do in the meantime is exactly that: wait.
We wait for anything to happen to begin something that has already begun: our lives.
And while we wait, our wait turns into a fat, nasty wait that clogs our arteries, slows us down, and shortens our life span.
So before you die, do yourself a favor:
Lose the wait.