I’ve been thinking back to when I was the age of my student, and I realized I can’t remember anything from that time. There are memories, but I don’t know how old I was at the time, just a concept of locations and events. Elementary school. Glimpses of pain. Moments that have little to no reference points. It’s strange knowing that I will probably remember my time with my students better than any of them will.
It’s always strange looking backwards. I don’t really know what I’ll find. There are always memories I’ve lived a thousand times, but there are always new things to be found. It’s hard for me to know what is real and what isn’t. Beyond the simple distortion of time, I know what my mind has done to me before. I try to remember a specific event as someone tells me, and I do. I don’t know if that memory was buried or if my mind just invented it as the story was told. I may be able to question what I’m told, but sometime my brain just accepts other people’s reality as its own.
All the things that are truly vivid are painful. It’s not that I had a bad life in any sense, or even a difficult one. I spent a lot of time visiting those memories, trying to understand them, or sometimes just wallowing in their misery. The more you visit a memory, the more solid it becomes. It’s a side effect of the learning process, I think. Repetition creates skill, and if you do something stupid often enough you become good at doing stupid things.
One of the most damaging things I ever found to do was to walk in the graves of the past. They are never quiet. I don’t really know which is worse, the ghosts or the demons. The things I have done that I regret, and the things that were done to me that I cannot let go of will probably always haunt me. I have done my best to let them rest, to understand them, and welcome them as part of myself, but that work is not nearly done yet.
Demons are always harder to deal with. There is always an image of our demons and angels, eternal and wondrous, in their beauty or their horror. I wonder if that is a true image. My demons have changed as my life has progressed. Their desires and demands are always the same, but they have become more complex over the years. I could just imagine my demon being born when I was, learning to corrupt me as fast as I learned to fight against it.
It’s hard for me to know. It’s just a way for me to understand the world that I find myself in, whether it is completely true or not. People are always looking for the eternal, but I don’t know if we are really capable of understanding it. All we have is the moment we are in, but we try to stretch that moment to infinity. Even if we could do it, would we really be any happier with it.
I don’t know that what matters is what we leave behind, or what we do, or who we love and hate. I don’t know if this world is anything more than a dream, or a lie we tell each other. Sometimes it matters what I think, what I do, but other times it seems so arbitrary. I keep falling back to an idea I once read.
A man was dying in the hospital and he said to his nurse that he was afraid that when he died that his life would end having meant nothing. The nurse didn’t know what to say, and the man died in the hospital shortly after. In some ways the Buddhist perspective is horrifying. That there is a good chance that his life had no meaning. That his death didn’t matter. We all seem to be searching for some form of immortality, but we don’t live our lives dedicated to anything.
If this world isn’t real, isn’t what we believe it to be, then there is a good chance that our lives don’t have any meaning. We can rail against it, or wallow as I did for a decade. There are so many bad options, but the truth is, I think, that our lives only have the meaning we give them. I think that is what I struggle with the most, the responsibility and power of taking control of my own existence. Not in the way of travel or self-direction, but in truly making my life have meaning. Even if it’s only to me. As the old joke goes, if, by all I do, I can make one person happy, even if it’s me, shouldn’t I do it?