Here and Now, There and Then

Words: Carla Jellema
Photograph: Fiona Christensen

Lately, I have become obsessed with the social relationship between space and time. This is something that has only become relevant to me the way that it is now, in a distinctly social way, in the context of London. Nonetheless, it has really taken up a lot, if not a disproportionate amount, of my thought space. I’ve realised that in this city, where I’m sharing so many different spaces with so many people I don’t know, certain things make me feel a connection with the rest of society just by virtue of that sharing. It’s not just a sharing of space, it’s a sharing of time, too. Because London is so old, I feel I’m also sharing it through time with all the people who have ever seen the same buildings and used or occupied all the same spaces that are now so different and sometimes very similar.

I’ve become keenly involved with a music hall in my neighbourhood that has a few community projects. One of them involves learning more about the surrounding area and where it has come from, how it evolved. We go on walks every Friday to see different parts of the space we live in. I’m usually the youngest member. I love this because many of the people who participate have been living in this part of east London for decades. I get to share their experiences of what it is now but they share with me how they’ve seen it change and have been connected to this specific area over all that time. Not only is this beautiful in itself but it has given me a connection to people I would never have had otherwise. The people they are today and the people they were in the same space, only in the past. Without space and time, it’s a connection that would not exist.

I heard of these walks through a close friend who was raised catholic. We have often had long discussions about religion because I’ve had such bizarre and unique religious experiences. She speaks beautifully about how her religious experience is at its core about community and about how saying “Our Father” connects her both with all the people saying that prayer at the same time, but also connects her with all the people who have ever said it before. I often think about my experiences in this way now.

My age as I’m experiencing it now is an example of this. I am connected to all the young people in London today that are going through things that are only pertinent to them during this time. Struggling to find jobs, unsure about entering a housing market, deciding their views on marriage and gay marriage and abortion and the legalisation of drugs. But I’m also connected with all people who have at one point been young here and have many of the same experiences, simply because they are unique to young adults. Figuring how you fit into the world and who you want to be with, carrying the responsibility of bringing something new into society and often being the most willing group to embrace change or difference. This is what makes you part of a group which isn’t even really a group, because membership is by default. You may never meet or be significant in the lives of the other members. You’re a part of this so-called-group for no other reason than you are experiencing relatively the same time in your life, at the same time in history. You share a space in time with one another. You share more than a moment, but a period or transition. You share it with everyone experiencing it in the context of the present but also in the context of historical human existence.

For someone who has only lived a nomadic lifestyle, this has become a wonderful foundation to my identity. Space and time.