One hundred years ago, Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity, replacing the Newtonian theory that gravity was a force inside the earth with the idea that gravity is imprinted in the geometry of the universe. Try as I might to understand the physics of the cosmos according Einstein, I’ve settled, instead, for an increasing comprehension of how space and time warp as I travel through Middle Age.
For instance, while attending a performance by The Snaz – a Brattleboro-based high-school rock band – one of the singers introduced a song as “an oldie but goodie.” Immediately, I anticipated Elvis, The Beatles, even The Monkeys. Then she said, “It’s from back when I was fifteen.”
I didn’t recognize the song, but I recognized the Theory of Relativity in play. To the eighteen-year old singer, three years represents a sixth of her life, which is nearly forever. I remember that. But three years ago was the day before yesterday in my current sense of time. Three years ago, my second grandniece was born, my middle child graduated from college, and my mom died, pushing me that much closer to the front of the line.
In his Special Theory of Relativity, which Einstein published in 1905 – a full ten years before the General Theory – he explained that space and time were all relative to the observer. No kidding. I’d also figured this out – back when my firstborn was an infant: I was sure the kitchen clock was stuck, because every time I checked to see how much longer till naptime, the big hand had hardly moved. But four years later, when my third child was born, the hands on that same clock spun in a blur, as in a cartoon.
But the General Theory of Relativity goes further, describing the fourth dimension of spacetime. According to Einstein, spacetime is both curved and warped: a gravitational field makes matter move, and matter generates gravity, making spacetime curve.
According to me, Middle Age does pretty much the same thing. Aside from the obvious curve of the human middle at this time of life, middle age is also when the house that was too small for so long is now too big, and when the objects inside that house disappear due to the curve of forgetfulness that comes with middle age. It’s also when we humans start to shrink, but our feet get further away. And it’s just about when we stop caring about birthdays that they start speeding toward us at warp speed.
So far, Einstein’s theory has held up for a hundred years, despite every subsequent generation of physicists testing its limits. The current research expects to find that limit at the edge of a black hole,
where gravity is so strong it will trap light and matter forever. The analogy between approaching the edge of a black hole and middle age is a grave one: “grave” as in “an excavation for the burial of a body” (a noun) and as “weighty, worthy of serious consideration (an adjective), and related to “gravity” which means “to be serious, to have weight.”
As one who has more faith in physics than religion, I find comfort in black holes, where energy goes to rest. I think of myself as traveling toward the extreme gravity that marks the black hole’s edge, but I’m not there yet. I still rise with the sun, happy for another day of Middle Age in which to create meaning even in a universe where time accelerates and space expands.
Deborah Lee Luskin was born into The Middle Ages: Into the Wilderness is her award-winning novel, a love story between people in their mid-sixties, set in Vermont in 1964. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com
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