Three billion years ago. The Earth turned faster, and the moon hung larger in the sky. A month was not a month, and a day was not a day. A breath was no breath at all. Not for my kind, the oxygen breathers. The world wasn’t ready for us yet, not primed for our greedy inhalations. In meditation, some say first and foremost is the breath. Breathe in and breathe out. Everything found in that simple action. Life itself in the breath. And for this breath we must thank the many blue-green algae that first released oxygen into the atmosphere as a waste product. We depend on the waste product of other living things. Volatile oxygen, reacting with everything in sight, making us possible.
And so I contemplate a hunk of banded iron formation. Glimpsing a world before conscious thought, before much of anything. A too large moon and a mass of algae. Pre-Eden. A world full of so much possibility that it is empty of almost everything. Recorded in bands of alternating hematite and chert. Red and black, formed because the oxygen released by these primeval algae was bonding with iron dissolved in the oceans and forming layers of hematite all over the world. Oscillations of rock, billions of years old.
I’ve had the same digital clock for maybe twenty years. I wake up in the middle of the night and see this red blur, numbers indiscernible without my glasses. When there’s an electrical glitch, a black out of some kind, it starts blinking on and off, like any respectable clock. On and off, letting me know that something is not quite right. I obsess sometimes when setting the alarm, worried that I put it on pm instead of am, or that I forgot to set it at all.
Of course I don’t really seem to need the clock. I wake up right before the alarm goes off and wait for it to ring. Sometimes I wonder if I could do away with it altogether like I did with watches. Just trust myself to wake at the right time. I’ve had it so long I think it’s bloody red numbers are permanently part of my psyche. My inner digital readout.
We’ve come a long way since Stonehenge and sundials. Wearing amazing devices strapped to our wrists, accurate to the micromillisecond. We study oscillations at the atomic level to ensure that the tick tock is pure.
So many ways to measure time. The turning of the heavens. Fluctuations in the atoms. The Egyptians measured time by poking a hole in a bowl of water and watching as the water flowed out. Drip, drip, drip. And once I measured time by the breaths my best friend had left as I looked into his eyes, and held his hand, and the leukemia took him. Breathe in. Breathe out. Times up.