When I was in middle school, I sat at the philosophers’ lunch table. We discussed serious issues: Is a hot dog a sandwich? The Partridge Family or The Brady Bunch? Wile E. Coyote or the Road Runner?
And, more than any other question: flight or invisibility?
We spent hours on this. The rules of the debate were clear. You could not pick both or any alternate powers. If you chose flight, you could fly at the same height and speed as a plane. When you flew you could carry only what you could already carry in your arms or on your back. You would not get any other superpowers.
Being able to fly would lead to exciting experiences. We did not, by the way, talk about using our powers for good. We had no illusions about fighting crime. Seeing the world – flying to London for the weekend – would be for the fun of it.
If you want to get away, flight sounds great. Choosing flight is choosing freedom.
But I was not sure flight was the right choice. I had questions: How cold is it up high? Are birds a problem? What if you get caught in the rain over the Atlantic? What will you look like on radar? Could you be shot down?
“Invisibility is a superpower for the villain inside us.”
I could never quite commit myself to flight. People who choose that kind of freedom may not be happy with where they are now.
The rules for invisibility were also clear. Invisibility is the power to be unseen, including your clothes and anything you might be holding.
Introverts go for invisibility. If you want to be alone, invisibility is great. Invisibility leads to free movies, free plane trips and shoplifting. You could walk unseen into the White House with a tape recorder and be the world’s greatest reporter.
But I had questions about invisibility, too. What happens the first time you get caught? Would being invisible make you creepy? (One friend – who we hope has matured in the last 45 years – had an unhealthy interest in the girls’ locker room.)
Invisibility leads us to baser instincts, sad places and bad behavior. Invisibility contributes to the nastiness of the internet. People say things they would not say if they were seen. Invisibility is a superpower for the villain inside us.
Though I never mentioned it at the lunch table because it seemed too personal, every time we debated flight or invisibility I had the same thought: the superpower I wanted was the ability to stop time.
I had the rules worked out. I could snap my fingers and immobilize everyone and everything except myself. I could stop time for any amount of time. I would do my homework, practice free throws, learn Spanish, play the piano, walk the Appalachian Trail and write long books, and none of it would take any time. I would read everything by Shakespeare, Hemingway (twice) and Tolkien (three times).
I could stop time for an hour and not have to waste the time it took to mow the lawn. I could hit pause before making a mistake. Stopping time could be helpful if someone wanted to punch you.
I could do so many important things, and so many unimportant things. I could stop time to watch The Six Million Dollar Man, read every Archie comic book and become an expert at shooting rubber bands. I could stop the clock to think of a clever comeback. I could hibernate for a winter without missing Christmas.
“I have come to believe that one of the secrets of life is enjoying the passing of time.”
I could waste my time without wasting my time. If you could stop time you would not leave any box unchecked. You could take the road less traveled, the road more traveled and some other roads, too.
For decades I thought about stopping time. Now that I’m old (at least by middle school standards), you might think I would be more interested than ever in stopping time. But I have given up on that superpower.
I have come to believe that one of the secrets of life is enjoying the passing of time. Wanting to stop time suggests that I am not happy with the life I have. I have flown to many interesting places, although never Superman style. And I have felt invisible even though I could still be seen. The superpower I need is the ability to be alive in this moment. I do not want to miss feeling what I have not felt, caring for people I have not cared for or seeing things that will surprise me.
Paul Tillich talks about the “eternal now” – those moments that touch eternity. I can stop even if the world does not, be quiet in the midst of noise and slow down enough to notice. I have this moment, and that is enough.