Our typical field of “time vision” is a few days: the immediate future slips steadily through the present into the recent past creating a small zone around our daily lives like a cocoon. For most adults, the intricacies of planning and executing a single day consumes the majority of our time-awareness: the particulars of work, family, personal finance, hobbies, and citizenship in a democracy not only fill our time, but add daily to a reservoir of things undone, always threatening to overrun its banks. This constant threat keeps most of our attention in the here and now.
“Time management” is based upon the very assumption that there is never enough time to attend to our responsibilities and interests - that the best we can do is to prioritize and “manage.” But the more we manage, the more constricted our view, the more “tunnel” our vision.
The catastrophic events of 9/11 shattered our work-a-day time vision, our little cocoons. A strange new dichotomy was created in our perception of time, away from a centralized “time managed” here and now, toward the extremes of the very long and the very short, necessitated by our dual needs to comprehend, contextualize and assimilate 9/11 intellectually, forcing a long view of time on the one hand; and our need to scrutinize and document ever finer details of the horror in an effort to assuage our emotional pain on the other.
By distributing the enormity of our pain (and guilt over surviving and/or not preventing the catastrophe) over both an ever-larger and ever-finer series of moments, we seek to disperse it, to make it less dense and oppressive.
Recall the iconic footage from September 11, when every telecaster with a tape machine and an antenna ritualistically ran images of the planes embedding themselves in the buildings, the effulgence of flames springing from the wounds, the subsequent implosion of the buildings, over and over again, burning them into the collective retina, focusing more attention on one sequence of events than perhaps any other in world history.
It was as if having recorded the monstrosity, somehow the results might be different on the 17th, 63rd, or 996th running of the tape: that perhaps if we s-l-o-w-e-d down the tape enough, we might discover an escape hatch between the frames, a tiny “Get Out of Disaster Free” card, Bugs Bunny’s “air brakes.” If time could be cut finely enough, perhaps it could be stopped or even reversed, giving us back what we had lost, returning us to a new Age of Miracles.