"Eternity in an Hour" is a line from "Auguries of Innocence", a poem by William Blake. It is quoted by hippies who think the opening couplet of the poem refers to altered states of consciousness, but since this is William Blake, altered states of consciousness aren't the point: they are a prerequisite. The opening four lines of the poem talk about the sublime nature of imagination, how small things can communicate the infinite and the eternal. The rest of the poem is more grim, talking of the subtle workings of karmic debts. The real point of them poem, behind those opening lines that speak of wonder, is that the smallest transgressions, when they are done with a closed heart, can have terrible consequences. I am actually reminded of this grim message when I am mentally begging and pleading with someone to pay attention, this is important, that this point is not as small as it seems, and that I really really wish that life had safe words so I could get people to stop sometimes.
But, to go back to my title, lets look on the right side of the colon. "Eternity in an Hour" has always been my mental image and goal for how a relationship should work. A romantic relationship. Despite his terror, Blake was also a romantic. There are even flowers in this opening, and flowers are romantic. Neil Gaiman observed that many male fantasies take the form of a man having to "pretend" that he is a meek, mild nobody, but that underneath he is a powerful and superb figure that would gather the immediate affection and respect of everyone. When I was an early teenager, when I had just turned 14, my hobbies were reading the works of Saint Augustine and walking around Lake Oswego, and I remember on one occasion a passage in Saint Augustine just hit me and I had a sudden realization of the non-dual nature of everything around me and the divine being that underlay what I was observing. So for me to go back to school and be shy and have a crush while at the same time I had been blessed with a revelation was like me being Superman pretending to be Clark Kent. I believed that if I could get the target of my affections alone for an hour, in some suitably pretty natural place, and if we were to let the guards and traps we place to save our self-esteem down, that it would be an experience of eternity. An unabashed communication and celebration of the simple truth of being. (Later that year, I discovered existentialism and the fact that relating is not quite so easy, and was a very depressed teenager, so lets skip ahead).
In 2003, I met a woman on the internet. On a site that is, or rather was, quite dodgy. Our first conversations did not focus on our spiritual or intellectual beliefs. If you know what I mean. I was happily surprised to find that she was actually at least as versed in the classics as I was. And when I finally found her address, I decided to write her a letter. I wrote the letter while on vacation in my mother's cabin in Montana, and the letter was indeed, about the William Blake quote. I wrote it after walking a mile or two along the road, on a sunny day in the Montana summer when the words seemed to mean a lot. Two years later, we would meet. I am naturally a skittish person, and am prone to pacing and checking my watch every five minutes. I thought that after sharing so much poetry, being in the presence of this person would put an end to all my anxiety, that being in her presence would be an unfettered experience of communion. This did not happen: even during the most intimate moments, there is reserve, a part of me that is thinking separate from the experience, and doubting it. This could be that this particular girlfriend was a fan of Milton, and Milton/Blake incompatibility is a major factor in relationships not working out.
Another girlfriend, my first girlfriend from years previously, told me that "Girls get afraid when men do things they like to read about in books and see in movies". This girlfriend's relationship to William Blake is, at the present time, unknown to me. Telling women that they remind you of the infinity that can be found in a flower, is the type of things that goes over well in romantic fictional portrayals, but may be an awkward thing to communicate in real life. This doesn't have a lot to do with another relationship I was in, with a girl who was emphatically (to her) not my girlfriend. Last summer, we had moved back to Montana together, in a move that I saw as an apotheosis on my part, where I was escaping the dismal world to go further up and further in, but which for her was, I believe, simply a stage on life's way. The first three days I was here, approximately, were I think the only few days in memory that I was not afraid of death. In fact, perhaps I did have this experience of "eternity in an hour". I think the second day we were together here, she woke me up and we went for a walk around the block, although the blocks here tend to be a bit bigger. For me, going on a walk with a woman that I liked and could talk to was the summum bonum. I don't know if it was that way for her. We were walking the same route as I had walked six years earlier, when I was inspired to write that letter about "eternity in an hour". This time, we were talking of subjects slightly more prosaic, although only slightly more so. We were talking about how people should live, and her belief that people should live and work in smaller groups, where they can know the people around them. I asked her some questions about this, about whether this approach was feasible in a world where logistics of scale seemed to be the only thing that managed to keep the human race running. I don't remember if we came to a conclusion on the matter. Here, I was playing the realist and the skeptic, which might not mesh with much of what I have written so far in this essay. But there in the hot July sun, with a wonderful world around us that neither one of us knew what to do with, I wonder if my skepticism meant I was turning away from the eternity or infinity more than she was. Perhaps all humans have turned away so much that any petty banality on our part can not do much to the general turning away one way or another.
And so now I am 30 years old, which means I have lived close a third of a million hours. And now I wonder if I will make it to a million hours, without experiencing an hour where I release myself from fear and holding myself in, and instead enter, briefly, into a communion and celebration of what it means to be alive.