Times and Tomorrows

One thousand years once seemed an inconceivably long time. So did one hundred years. But after living fifty years, one hundred years seemed considerably shorter. And one thousand years seemed substantially less than forever. With each passing decade, time feels like it is shrinking. Consider that, at one year of age, one thousand years is one thousand times one’s age. Just nine years later, that vast stretch of time dwindles to just one hundred times one’s age. And when the ten-year-old child is twice that age, one millennium is just fifty times as long. Math continues to shorten eternity, enabling that one-time child to understand how close he is to his ancestors who lived one thousand years ago. Just as the past seems to grow closer, so does the future. As we age, we can begin to think about the people who will follow us one thousand years hence (assuming humankind will last that long). We can imagine those descendants, one thousand years hence, beginning their journeys to understand time…and realizing they are as close to yesterday as we are to tomorrow.




One of the online “newspapers” I read or skim on occasion—ChinaDaily.com.cn—is fascinating in that it presents a broad spectrum of China, not just the centuries-old traditions or the cutting edge developments. This morning, I read an article (appearing more like an ad than an article) about the Hilton Garden Inn Zibo Zhangdian (pictured), which is located in downtown Zibo, Shandong province. The article mentions the Hilton strategy in China of  developing hotel properties in cities along high-speed railway lines. Apparently, China has developed (and continues to develop) high-speed rail throughout the country.  Most of the news about large Chinese cities focuses on Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Chengdu, all cities with populations greater than 10 million. According to Google Generative AI, the population of Zibo is roughly 4,702,000, making the city the 100th largest city in China (but Wikipedia says only 28 cities in China have populations that large; and Zibo’s population is shown on Wiki as only 2.6 million, number 45 on the list of the largest cities in China—still, only three US cities, with the addition of Chicago, match or exceed that number). Only two cities in the USA have populations greater than 4 million: New York City and Los Angeles.  The photo of Wuhan, the tenth largest city in China with a population of roughly 7.9 million, suggests yet another highly developed, modern, densely populated city about which most Americans know essentially nothing (except for the blame for COVID-10 placed by many in the media and elsewhere on a lab there). 


The poorest large city in China, Dongguan with 8.3 million people is, despite the poverty, a growing, fiercely modern city. The city’s population is said to be dominated by low-wage-earning migrant factory workers and tourism is virtually unheard-of there, but Dongguan is a huge manufacturing center, ranked fourth in the country for its volume of exports. When I read about how populous, how large, and how advanced China has become, my curiosity spikes. The country I remember hearing, in my youth, was a backward, stunted, horrible place second or third only to the bowels of Hell in its universal misery, has advanced. Or, and perhaps more likely, the country was depicted that way as part of an intentional propaganda campaign propagated by western leaders as a means of lessening turmoil domestically and enhancing governmental ability to control. Keeping a leash on the population, in other words. Youth today are exposed to both more propaganda and more truth than I was as a child. And a young adult. And a middle-aged man. And an aging relic.


The early morning remains in darkness much longer these days, compared to the Summer Solstice (June 21 this year and June 20 in 2024 in the northern hemisphere). December 21 will be this year’s shortest day in the northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice, when sunrise will occur at 7:15 a.m. Today, by comparison, the sun will rise just 9 minutes from the time I type this, at 6:48 a.m. Just nine minutes can make an enormous difference in the amount of light in the sky.


If time, instead of a concept, were a physical thing, I wonder which it would be: a solid, a liquid, or a gas? Or would it be something entirely different, something we have never before encountered? Yes, the questions are absurd. But we need to ask absurd questions, the kind of questions that very young children—unafraid of being labeled stupid or worse—ask. I think fear of revealing our ignorance about things we “ought” to know sometimes keeps us from attaining a level of understanding that could improve our lives. Asking “stupid” questions puts us at risk for being mocked, laughed at, and dismissed as perpetually gullible and confused. I hate that. And I hate that I have been guilty, more often than I want to admit, of being the one who laughed. Even after I learned the meaning of “if the shoe were on the other foot…,” I allowed myself the pleasure of cruelty. Cruelty takes many forms, of course, from physical torture to inconsiderate, rude, or otherwise appalling verbal abuse. But I digress…I may come back to my shame and guilt for having been someone I am embarrassed for being… Absurd questions can trigger more questions, which can spark creative ideas that lead to greater and greater insights about matters that might have once seemed impossibly mysterious.  Yes, it’s a long sentence and quite a mouthful. I think in long, convoluted, tortuous spirals; mental gymnastics. I am better at mental gymnastics than I am at physical gymnastics, but in mental gymnastics I sometimes stumble or lose my grip on the rope or make a misstep on the highwire and plunge to the ground below. Or, if I’m lucky, into a net provided by some gentle, generous soul whose compassion exceeds my own. The air we breathe is composed of roughly 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen. It has trace amounts of other gases, as well, including carbon dioxide, neon, and hydrogen. I do not know that from personal experience measuring the content of air; I “know” that because that is what I have learned from sources I trust. Of course, I trusted the sources that told me all Chinese people lived colorless lives in abject poverty in bleak cities or in country-sides littered with failed crops and poisoned water. Question everything. And then question the answers. And then ask the stupid questions. The absurd questions. And then breathe in, deeply, and experience what time feels like as it fills your chest cavity and then exits when you exhale.


My visit to my oncologist’s office yesterday yielded comforting news. The results of some Google searches suggested that the results of a recent blood test might indicate the return of my cancer. My CEA  results, a bit higher than normal the last two times it was measured (5.1 and 8.8) skyrocketed recently, to 24.5. The APRN told me not to worry; her communications with the oncologist confirmed that the blood test might be concerning if I had not just had a CT scan that revealed absolutely nothing of concern. I’m taking them at their word. As a result of the good news (as well as the simple passage of time), I am going to have my chemo port removed from my chest sometime soon. I think it’s safe to say now—just a month or so shy of five years since I learned the cancer diagnosis, on November 2, 2018—I truly am cancer-free. Hallelujah! And knock on some virtual wood. And the real thing.


Damn! It’s almost 7:30. I should finish blogging before wandering off in search of breakfast-worthy foodstuff. I’ll finish now, so I can continue the search and satisfy my hunger.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

I wish you would tell me what you think about this post...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.