“I have lost that which can never be restored: I have seen the sun rise and set for twenty months, an idle gazer on the light of heaven…Twenty months are past, who shall restore them!”
These sorrowful meditations fastened upon his mind; he past four months in resolving to lose no more time in idle resolves…
— Samuel Johnson, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia
An English teacher once commented on one of my classroom journal entries, “You’ve always been someone very concerned with the passing of time.” How right she was. With a remarkable memory, I was constantly marking time from and to various events and weaving them all into some sort of narrative meditation, imagining myself as a spectator quietly observing history in the making, fascinated by the undulation of time.
Until I discovered the word kenopsia, though, I didn’t have a particular name for one of the most recurring experiences of my childhood. After soccer games, my parents were always among the very last to leave. As they and a couple other stragglers would continue talking, I would wander around the grounds, looking out at the field, reflecting on how eerie it felt to see it so empty when only a half-hour or so earlier it had been filled with activity and noise, and feeling the first stirrings of dread, knowing that the weekend was almost over and school on Monday morning was fast approaching.
Lot’s wife was turned to a pillar of salt because she couldn’t resist turning around to look at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Eurydice was lost to Orpheus because he couldn’t wait until they had fully escaped Hades before turning back to look at her. As Rasselas might concur, the past can be a gorgon, turning our heart and will to stone the longer we look back and lament. Behind us is nothing but dust and ghosts. We’ll be part of it soon enough.