Thinking about time is inseparable with the three dimensions it brings: the future, the present, and the past. Imagine it as two big jars with a tube that links them. ‘The future’ and ‘the past’ are represented by each of those jars while ‘the present’ is analogical to the tube in between.
First, the jars. The jar of future is unknown. It is as if there is a veil covering its contents. We can predict with a certain degree of confidence of what might be inside, but we never know 100% what will come out. On the other hand, the jar of the past is, to put it simply, bare-naked. It is the realm of the known, the realm of the done. We knew it, we can see it. But it is also very likely that we might lose what we have known too.
Then there is this thing in the middle, the tube of the present. This tube, connecting both realms, acts as a vessel that enables the unfolding of the future to enter the past. The present is where things are fluid and flowing. If the future is the realm of the unknown and the past is the realm of the known, the present is the realm of knowing, or experience. By experiencing, we are transferring the future as part of our past that, in return, shape our expectation (or prediction) about the future. So the presence of the present destabilizes the fixity of the past and amplify the uncertainty of the future.
A question arises up to this point: Out of these three, which one (or more) that we own? The past, the present, or the future?
My answer is that we own none of them.
Obviously, we will never own the future. It is not yet happened.
But how about the present? We feel it, we experience it, we taste it, we buy it, we must have some sort of ownership on those, right?
Not really. In fact, the present always slipped through our grasp. For example, when I do something at the moment (let’s say, writing this article), it instantly becomes a part of the past. Well, even sometimes we were not sure (read: forget) about what we just did. If the present, as it happens, turns itself immediately to be the past, then how come we own the present?
OK, if that is the case then we must own the past, right? It had happened. We store it, we keep it, we remember it. It’s ours isn’t it?
Yes and no. Yes that we store them somewhere, yes that we keep them safe, and yes that we remember them. But for how long? Sooner or later they will be gone, if we’re not gone first.
Time is so elusive. And people who got caught in the game of time will find themselves racing for an illusion of getting something they will never get.
But, can we not play the game?
Probably we can—if our emphasis is not on the getting but the doing. But doing what? Because doing just anything will not be helpful either. For this, I will close this writing by referring to the three simple-yet-profound verses in the Quran (which translated as follows):
Indeed, mankind is in loss,
Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.