There was a lot that Billy said that was gibberish to the Tralfamadorians, too. They couldn't imagine what time looked like to him. Billy had given up on explaining that. The guide outside had to explain as best he could.
The guide invited the crowd to imagine that they were looking across a desert at a mountain range on a day that was twinkling bright and clear. They could look at a peak or a bird or a cloud, at a stone right in front of them, or even down into a canyon behind them. But among them was this poor Earthling, and his head was encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off. There was only one eyehole through which he could look, and welded to that eyehole were six feet of a pipe.
This was only the beginning of Billy's miseries in the metaphor. He was also strapped to a steel lattice which was bolted to a flatcar on rails, and there was no way he could turn his head or touch the pipe. The far end of the pipe rested on a bi-pod which was also bolted to the flatcar. All Billy could see was the little dot at the end of the pipe. He didn't know he was on a flatcar, didn't even know there was anything peculiar about his situation.
The flatcar sometimes crept, sometimes went extremely fast, often stopped--went uphill, downhill, around curves, along straightaways. Whatever poor Billy saw through the pipe, he had no choice but to say to himself, "That's life."
That's a fairly frightening description of the human understanding of time. Limited. Narrow. Choked. But Vonnegut's point is pretty clear: we don't see the big picture here on Earth. The future is a distant mountain. The past falls behind the tracks of the flatcar without notice. We just stare up at our little pinpoint of sky, oblivious.
That's a fairly pessimistic description of the human race, I have to say. But, at this moment in the United States, it seems pretty apt. Myopic doesn't even come close to describing the situation. I grew up believing that one of my main jobs as a traveler on this little rock of a planet was to leave it in a little better shape than when I arrived. Sort of like borrowing someone's house for the weekend. When you leave, you make the beds, do the laundry, clean the bathroom, and maybe buy a gallon of milk for the fridge and a bouquet of roses for the kitchen table. You leave a note of thanks. That's what good guests do.
That's what we all are. Guests. We don't own this place. God simply gave us the keys to the front door and told us to make ourselves at home. When I look at my kids, I want them to have a better life than I had. I want them to know that it's their responsibility to take care of our little corner of the world, for the kids that come after them. I don't want them going through life strapped to a flatcar, staring at a tiny speck of sky through six feet of pipe. I want them to see the mountains and canyons.
For the most part, I think my son and daughter get that. The other day, I took my son to a playground. He was playing with another little boy, and that little boy caught a dragonfly by the wings. My son had a meltdown, yelling, "Let it go! Dragonflies are GOOD! They're GOOD for the planet!" Eventually, the little boy relented and let it go.
Saint Marty is thankful today for a son who cares about dragonflies.