Future Perfect.

24 May 2016

I was apologising again. I do a lot of this (see Managing Friends 101; 8th July last year).

"Don't apologise," said Raz. "I have a rule that I am only friends with perfect and beautiful people. Therefore, if you have made a mistake, it is only a part of the process of you becoming perfect – and, as time is an illusory irrelevance, you are already in that state of perfection."

I didn't argue. Raz is a quantum physicist, priest, philosopher, musician and poet: I do not pretend to understand him even half the time. I was just grateful he wasn't upset with me.

I'm a writer (hey – you knew that, didn't you?) and so grammar is one of the tools of my trade. The perfect tense in grammar refers to the present statement of an action in the past. For instance, "I have painted this picture." The action of painting took place some time ago. The word perfect, in this case carries the Latin meaning of completed or finished. There are also the forms of pluperfect (or past perfect): "I had painted this picture," and future perfect: "I will have painted this picture." In all cases the picture is a completed and finished work of art. Whether it is varnished, framed and ready to hang in an art gallery with a fabulous price tag is not part of the discussion; the fact it is finished is what makes it perfect.

Maybe I am trespassing into Lex's area of expertise here, but I like to think that we are all working on ourselves – constantly seeking to improve ourselves. We are in fact, working on becoming perfect. Absolute perfection seems unachievable, like infinity: all we can do is "tend toward" it (as I remember from my old A-level Mathematics days).

Our problem arises when we demand absolute perfection right here, right now, in our current time. We want to be proudly exhibiting perfection, just like that painting. And every mistake we make devastates us emotionally because it ruins perfection absolutely.

We could accept the present tense: I am painting this picture. But this present imperfect tense carries no sense of completion: we could be painting that picture for ever more, and never get beyond the background and a few squiggles that might – or might not – be trees.

Instead I like the future perfect tense: I will have painted this picture. I will have become perfect.

I don't understand time as Raz does; quasi time is his particular field, and I didn't get past chapter 3 of Stephen Hawking's Brief History of it, but I'm willing to accept that time is much more complex than I could possibly imagine.

So just maybe, we are all completely perfect, both in the future and right now. Any mistakes we make are just part of the present process of becoming perfect.

You know - I think I can live with that. Even if I don't quite understand it.


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