Time travel of sorts
Being in Europe also had a weird effect on my perspective of time. Somehow, the world seems older and newer there simultaneously. Do you, like me, have a fuzzy timeline in your head against which you make sense of all parts of human history? I have one. On the far right is a line marked “Present.” There’s a line 300ish years to the left marked “America as we know it.” And then there’s a line 1,700 years to the left of that marked “Jesus wuz here.”
(I have some faint lines in between, too, like “Serfdom, I think,” and B.C. lines on the far, far left — like “Moses” and “Dinosaurs” — but they are super fuzzy. To the left of Jesus, my timeline basically fades into oblivion like those vanishing points we had to draw in seventh grade art class.)
All that to say, pretty much everything I see in my day-to-day life in the U.S. falls to the right of the “America” line. It’s all less than 300 years old, so mentally, I stay zoomed in on that little portion of human history almost all the time. In Paris and London, I think people must stay zoomed further out on their mental timelines. How could they not, when you can turn this way and that and see structures that are 600, 700, sometimes 1,000 years old?
In Europe, I felt newly aware of the fact that humans have been around for so long, doing their human things — so much longer than we usually think about in America. Here is all the evidence, entire cities worth of evidence. I felt small and finite there. But, simultaneously, I felt as though a thousand years didn’t sound quite so long anymore. I’d been made to zoom out on my mental timeline, and suddenly the whole of human history seemed shorter. Once you’ve stood in a building that’s 1,000 years old, 2,000 years become conceivable, and from that perspective, the “Jesus” line is a lot closer to the “Present” line than you ever realized before. (In related news, I really want to visit Israel now.)