By Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009)
The house which, to put it loftily, the human spirit inhabits is built on four cornerstones. These four are:
What caps the house is TIME – a reality that is the commonest in the world and the most mysterious. From the moment of our birth time seems to us to be the most ordinary and the most domesticated of experiences. (Something was and then stopped being. Something was one way and now is different. Something happened yesterday or even a minute ago and can never, never come back.)
Time is, therefore, the most ordinary aspect of our existence, but also the most terrifying. The four realities, mentioned above, are our ways of dealing with the terror of time.
REASON’s task is to enable us to discover eternal truths, resistant to time.
GOD, or the absolute, is that being which knows neither the past nor the future but contains everything in its “eternal now.”
LOVE, in the intensity with which it is experienced, also does away with the past and the future. It is the present – concentrated and exclusive.
DEATH is the end of that temporality in which we have been immersed throughout our lives and perhaps, as we surmise, also an entry into another temporality of which we know nothing (almost nothing).
All these foundations of our thought are tools with which we liberate ourselves from the terrifying reality of time; their purpose seems to be that of truly taming time.
The piece appeared originally in Polish in the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny on July 17, 2009. English translation copyright by Piotr J. Malysz.