It’s 10pm, and it’s still light outside. We’re driving south on the M1 highway toward Dublin, and we’re still a ways out. Hopefully it’ll be under an hour without traffic. The boys won’t (can’t) really sleep because of the sun. They don’t care what time it is; it doesn’t seem like bedtime to them.
I get it but I’m still surprised. They should be exhausted. We spent the day chasing giants.
Remember the arcade game Q*bert? There was that funny little round orange guy with a long nose and two legs and he hopped around a pyramid made of cubes that changed colors when he touched them. The goal was to change all the colors without falling off or encountering enemies/obstacles along the way – though if you did the latter, Q*bert would curse in that famous speech bubble filled up with nonsensical characters. I’m not sure but I think Q*bert was the first to do that. Pretty @#$!-ing cool.
So if any of this rings a bell, imagine that pixelated screen with Q*bert’s escalating geometric landscape….but then imagine it being a real place. That’s where we were today.
The Giant’s Causeway is a spectacular place. It’s this amazing geological wonder with more than 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, which were formed by intense volcanic activity 50-60 million years ago. Yep, that far back. All the “old stuff” we’ve seen in museums over the last two weeks? Compared to this, not so old after all.
The columns are mostly hexagonal, though some have 1 or 2 more sides, and some have fewer. They’re maybe 2 feet wide. I had read about this place before, but had to see it to believe the precision of it all – these perfectly angled shapes sticking out of the earth.
The welcome center has been given widely mixed reviews, but we liked it. There’s a floor-to-ceiling screen that’s on a loop, with two very short features. One simply walks through the history of the area, and explains how the volcanic fissures formed the striking landscape. The other was a few minutes of computer animation, telling a quick version of the legend of Mac Cumhaill (a.k.a. Finn McCool), a mythical hunter-warrior who – the story goes – was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn accepts the challenge and builds the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet and fight. In one version of the story, Finn defeats his rival but in another (and this is the one they show in the visitor center) Finn hides from Benandonner when he realizes that his foe is bigger than he is. Finn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Finn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle, so when Benandonner sees the “baby” he will think that the father, Finn, is gigantic. Benandonner flees back to Scotland, terrified to fight Finn, and destroys the causeway as he goes.
After we watched the “movies” twice (per the kids’ request), we boarded a tiny shuttle and made our way down the 3km path toward the sea, where the columns begin. There were people from all over the world on that shuttle bus; a couple in front of us sat speaking Hindi, a dozen other Chinese tourists who were crammed around us chattered excitedly, a French family stood on the other side of where we sat. And then when we all disembarked, everyone’s language was the same. There were Ooooohs and Aaahhhhhhs, sighs, squeals. One woman took just three or four steps off the bus and looked out, spread her arms wide, and began wailing with delight. The place is magic.
We walked – the boys ran – right on in, stepping up from one column to another, jumping down, winding around them all, like a stairway exploded in all directions. It was like one big, 3D honeycomb staircase, coming down from the mountains and then disappearing into the sea.
We were shocked when 7pm rolled around and the area closed for the night. The sun was still shining bright, and if we’d just gone by the look of things, I’d have bet it was maybe 3pm latest.
It’s not that we’re ignoring all bedtimes on this trip but we realized early on, if we’re going to switch time zones every week or so, we may as well ease up and give everyone (including ourselves) a little break. So when 7pm came and we were wandering back from one of the greatest natural wonders any of us had ever seen, sun still high, I saw the boys glance and smirk at each other, like they knew they were getting away with something. Jaspar even checked his pocket watch to confirm that it really was their usual bedtime, and chuckled to himself.
I have my own emotions tied to time and my boys’ understanding of it, their ability to feel it and find themselves in it. Reza and I were talking about this last night falling asleep, and he points out that, those emotions are tied to a core belief: my belief in where time is going.
My whole worldview has been shaped by the faith tradition I grew up with as an evangelical protestant. I’m aware now, though I wasn’t cognizant of it for the first full half of my life, that most western religions think of time in linear fashion. Time had a beginning, and time will have an end. The thing is, I never really thought of this as a theory or just one of several possible ways of looking at time; it’s always been absolute fact to me. It’s been fundamental to all else I’ve known, one of the few things I’ve never truly questioned.
Of course, I’ve enjoyed many different stories, through books or movies mostly, that have dealt with time travel, or time bending, or anything else like that. But I’ve never actually considered those elements as real possibilities.
For the first half of our trip, our experiences have been mostly about Western cultures and religions, in which linear time is the norm. In a few weeks, though, we’ll shift our focus and travel through China and Japan with the boys. For many Eastern religions, time is cyclical, not linear. There is no beginning and no end. Things repeat. Time is ongoing. Moments, months, millennia – all are part of the same loop, layering over itself again and again.
Two of my dearest friends come to mind when I consider this. Each is so special to me, in her own way. One is Buddhist. She is hilarious, and deeply joyful, and has a way of being extremely present. When you’re around her, you feel like she’s nowhere but right there, in the room with you, locked on to the conversation at hand. She’s the opposite of a distracted listener. The other friend was raised in the TM movement, deeply influenced by Hindu theology, and therefore also immersed in the idea of cyclical time. She’s incredibly creative, graceful, thoughtful – and, also a blast to spend time with. She’s extremely intentional about how she parents and how she creates home for her family.
Both believe in some version of reincarnation. I’ve loved seeing what this means for each of them, how it plays out in their lives and their families’ lives. They’ve each taught their kids about this belief, and I’ve seen how it’s created an openness and comfort with conversations about what happens after we die. Their families talk freely about cycles of life and death and rebirth. It’s beautiful to observe.
My first reaction when we all began talking about their belief in reincarnation? Envy. I know I know, I realize what I’ve just said is sacrilege. But really, if I’m absolutely as honest as I can be, heaven has always sounded a little quiet for me. I like the concept of communing with God. But I’d rather just have lots of chances to be alive again. I like it here.
And how I wish I could tell my kids that we get to come back again and again. To a place we know. To the familiar. How great would it be to be able to tell them, there’s no such thing as The End, for us or for anything else, because time is a circle, not a line.
Faith is a choice. I know this. What I don’t know is if it is a sign of a growing or a weakening faith to change – or, even just dream of changing – a core belief. Especially if that belief has been held for half a lifetime. And especially if the new belief, the one that you long to believe, has thus far been myth. Like leprechauns or fairies or giants.
author of #claywaterbrick. cofounder of @kiva. instructor at @USC. investor at @collabfund. in love w @rezaaslan + our three boys.