Sometime in the mid 1980’s, I met a Native American who originated from a tribe in northern Mexico. I don’t remember the name of the tribe or his name, but I remember him quite well. My friend was illiterate. Not functionally illiterate, but totally illiterate. He could not read or write anything. He could not read a clock to tell the time of day. He could not work the simplest mathematical problem but he could speak five languages: Spanish, English and three Native American. He was not stupid. He was just uneducated. While we were together he told me about a lady friend he had loved. Love is my word not his. He called her his lady. When he talked of her there was great sorrow in his voice. He told me the year she died and asked me how long she had been dead. It had been just a few years since she died. He knew his birth date, but did know how old he was.
He lived on the streets getting by however he could. Coming and going, sleeping and rising when he wanted. Here was a man who had no concept of time except possibly the rising and setting of the sun, the phases of the moon and the changing seasons.
After we parted, I happened across him one day while he was scavenging. That was the last time I saw him.
I thought about this man a lot. One thing I thought about was how he saw the world; what was his reality like? If he had money and tried to spend it, he would have to trust that the change he received was correct. Did he go through each day knowing how much “time” he had until dark by the position of the sun in the sky? What about how he could tell when to get some warmer clothes. We know by the time of the year, but he could not read a calendar. He could see the changing seasons but he could not tell the years as they went by. He could not count: 1,2,3,4,5. Did he have linear time as part of the reality that he lived, or was it the concept of cyclic time that I had read about. Maybe he had no concept of time at all.
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