The movie

I know a young lady with an interesting obsession. Since her mother died, she is charged with the notion that her mother can see everything she does. She hasn’t much changed her ways, she reports, but feels a new accession of guilt, or more accurately, shame.

“Belinda,” let us call her, for that is not her name. Both she and her late mother could pass for Christians — the daughter perhaps less splendidly so. She says her mother was some kind of saint, and this is also my memory of the lady, who died a horrible death in consistently good cheer. Belinda calls herself a “bad” Christian, so perhaps she is a good Christian, after all, since a good Christian will always think of herself as a bad Christian. Though on the other hand, she might be right.

Recent casual remarks in these Idleposts return to haunt me in this context. Several correspondents have kindly provided their own “theories” on time travel, in response to e.g. my desire to set out on a book-hunting tour around the Classical Mediterranean. I have a theory, too, which I will surely impart. But first I should mention that all of our theories must make terms with a hard metaphysical fact. The past cannot be changed. Or if it can, we are at sea, truly, and post-modernity begins to make sense.

Now, supposing Belinda’s mother to be a saint, or otherwise an eventual graduate of Purgatory, I find it quite plausible that she can see, from outside earthly Time, just what her earthy daughter is doing within it. And, not only what she is now doing, but what she has ever done, including what she will by her free will come to do, and that from every conceivable angle.

Whether she may now read her daughter’s mind is quite another question. My guess is that only God can do that, or will ever be able to do that; I speculate only on the externals.

Imagine us living still in Flatland, but Belinda’s mother in the Fullness of Space. What is there now for her not to see? Or perhaps I may invoke the fish tank, to add a frisson of subtlety. We know what our goldfish are up to, in their aquarium dimension, but they can only guess at what is happening outside it. As they are fish of little brain, their thoughts on our behaviour — or even on whether we really exist — are of little interest. Indeed: gentle reader is currently indulging what, from a divine point of view, could be described as a “goldfish theory.”

And yet the “two worlds” interact. Fish food drops occasionally into the tank, as manna from Heaven. The Cyprinidae below may think this happens by an entirely natural process, but we who hold the tin know better.

History is unalterable, or will be unalterable as it comes to pass, and is thus “recorded,” in an absolute sense. The dead, or rather, those dead who did not choose to get as far away from God as they could, and thus to “the other place” where they cannot see Him, may walk into His “movie” at any point. They may, according to this morning’s goldfish theory, move around every set at will, invisible to, and undetected by the actors; watch the flick backwards, forwards, sideways, or in stills. But they cannot change a thing.

There is no hiding from the holy dead, it follows; and of course, no hiding from the all-seeing Eye of God. It strikes me that Belinda might as well behave, remembering that in addition to her Creator, her mother may be watching from Eternity, out there.