One of the great luxuries of travel is the opportunity to be present, while visiting places we’d insist are “from a different time” – whether past or future. The future (I see you, Tokyo, we’ll get to you in a few months) is not as mysterious, and not nearly as intoxicating, to me as the past.
Over the last week we’ve seen a lot of very old things. It’s felt like we’ve taken our fresh, new, young little boys back into the mysterious past. They seem to sort of pulse, so full of life, in contrast to these ancient objects and places.
Today, we saw Stonehenge (5,000 years old). Yesterday, the Rosetta Stone, and reliefs from Persepolis (both 2,000). Last week, Venus de Milo (2,200), and of course the Lascaux Caves (17,000 years ago, before recorded history). And more.
For Reza and me, we’re almost dizzy with the time warp-ing. Back and forth through eras and eons, day after day. We feel drunk from the chronological zig-zagging. It’s awesome.
The magic of seeing these things with our boys, of course, is watching them process in their own ways. Best stuff in the British Museum? The cupcakes in the cafe on the top floor, a pile of Roman gold coins, and a gigantic sword they saw somewhere but can’t remember anything else about, except they recall you need two hands to hold it up. But, as for the coins and the sword, the ages of those artifacts didn’t matter to them. They would have been just as interesting to our boys if they were made last week and displayed in a toy store.
The time travel sensation that’s so palpable to us grown-ups isn’t something the kids seem to experience.
We’ve asked them each time, just to see what they might guess: “How old do you think this is?”
A trillion years old?, they’ll guess. Billions? Millions? Hundreds? Wait did I miss one? What’s less than millions again?…
Sometimes we back way up and try to let them do the math. “Well honey, let’s figure it out. The whole universe is only 13 billion years old, and the earth is just 4.5 billion years old. So can Stonehenge be a trillion years old?”… It’s fun to coax them along until they start to get close to the correct numbers.
And by the way, I don’t have all the right numbers memorized. It’s not as if Reza and I can place each thing we see in history, on a timeline, with total accuracy. At least, I can’t – Reza is pretty darn good at it. But regardless, we’re studying as we go, to share with the kids. And both of us are truly struck by the ages of things. I stood in awe today, looking at circles of gigantic rocks, imagining the context of 5,000 years ago, imagining how it all might have unfolded, wondering about the people who envisioned and then erected the things. I guess that’s what strikes me – imagining the way the world was then – not the numbers themselves.
We’ve started to try to provide that context for our sons. We talk about what else was happening in the world then. What it was like. Who was around. What rules they lived by. What they did or didn’t know yet. This makes more sense to them than the numbers.
And isn’t part of being a kid not really knowing yet, by feel, what five minutes, or an hour, or a week really is – let alone years or decades? Of course, few adults ever go much farther than those segments; some of us might live such long lifetimes that we’ll know the feeling of a century passing. But even still, we learn this more as we experience each year, the feeling of time, and feelings the differences between a thousand or 20,000 year old things.
So as much as we love talking timelines with our boys, we’re trying to focus on the context. And, on being present.
author of #claywaterbrick. cofounder of @kiva. instructor at @USC. investor at @collabfund. in love w @rezaaslan + our three boys.