November 21, 2022 at 7:55 am #1101Michael GrayParticipant
The words were emblazoned on a banner strung between two buildings bordering the plaza. The letters were as tall as giraffes and the dot on the “i” was the size of a pie plate:
“Sign up for the future”
I couldn’t remember how I had got to this plaza or even what town I was in. Yet it seemed familiar, so I didn’t worry too much about it. It was just another symptom of age, which didn’t have to interfere with my enjoyment of life. I didn’t even trouble to ask myself if I was awake or asleep, since I felt completely engaged in the moment. That’s become my strategy for living life under what some would call the onslaught of a loss of memory; but I choose to call it a gift of unending adventure.
Since I have no over-arching state of consciousness from which I might evaluate my experiences of the moment, I just go with the flow and participate in whatever arises. I could easily fall into panic because I don’t know how I got here, but what would be the value of that? This is my current state of mind and I see no reason to question what I can’t change. Although I do have a feeling that things used to be different.
I may always have lived in a flow of time that carried me along with it. But I suspect that I was once able to view each arising situation from the perspective of a previously remembered reality and that this provided a stable background from which I made choices. I remember that much of what may have come before this present jumping from one situation to another.
As if foretold in a forgotten fairy tale, I feel I once experienced a state of mind in which I could choose one branch or another along whatever road I was traveling. After each choice, I would arrive at a place that was familiar in its particulars and in its relationship to the path I had taken to get there. This is no longer the case. Now time just drops me in one situation after another, with no antecedents in whatever may have come before.
I walked up to a table in the plaza, which had a small version of the overhead banner taped to its front edge. There were several stacks of brochures, a cup of pens, and a clipboard. As I approached, a young man smiled at me. When he didn’t say anything– but continued to regard me with interest–I heard myself saying,
“I want to sign up for the future.”
His smile broadened as he slid the clipboard towards me across the table.
I picked it up and was about to make the observation—I felt with a playful touch appropriate to the situation—that signing up for anything was itself a way of enrolling in the future, when I was no longer standing in the plaza. Instead of holding a clipboard in my hands, I was standing over a gas stove with a spatula in my right hand looking at a frying pan in which three pork-chops were sizzling on the right front burner, while a saucepan with peeled potatoes was boiling on the element to the left.
Even before I turned around to confirm my surroundings, I knew where I was. I was back in the apartment where I had lived half a century ago. And I remembered two pasts. One past was the 25 years that had led to me being in this apartment, preparing a lunch of pork-chops, mashed potatoes, applesauce and, I hoped, some vegetable. And there was another past three times as long, which, to my amazement, I could also still remember.
I turned the pork-chops over, confirming as I did that my right hand was wrinkle free. I felt an odd blend of excitement and dread. Could I actually be about to relive a lifetime that had spanned another 50 years? Considering that possibility, I winced at memories, still present in my mind, of actions and inactions that had harmed myself and others. I knew that I would not want to walk those roads again. But would I be able to change what had already happened in my life? Realizing that only time would tell, I smiled at the thought that at least I wouldn’t have to relive those years of helplessness as an infant or to sit dully through an ‘educational’ experience from which I had gained so little.
While debating whether I should eat the pork-chops–since I had become a vegetarian in future years—my whole body told me not to waste something so delicious.
As I mashed the potatoes and added tablespoons of butter with liberal dashes of salt and pepper, it slowly sank in that I was living in a world with no cell phones, search engines, personal computers, or the world wide web. It dawned on me that if I was being offered another chance for discovery and growth, then I needed to hold onto something of what I had learned in a future time, which no longer existed for anyone but me. It would be trivial to purchase shares of Walmart unless a vision guided the life that was to come.
With no internet to check and no idea of whether there was a public library in downtown Montreal, since I had never visited one as a young man, I remembered that there was a bookstore on the McGill University campus. I downed one of the pork-chops–then with no hesitation the other two—with dollops of mashed potatoes, extra butter melting over them, riding on each mouthful. I rinsed the plate, discovered an apartment key in a pocket of my pants, left the apartment, and walked up Crescent Street towards Sherbrooke Avenue. With mounting excitement, I mulled over the subjects I could study that I had for long wished I had discovered sooner.
Perhaps this time I would become a therapist. I now had time to prepare for a helping role for which I had previously lacked either the training or the understanding of human nature needed to offer effective help. This time, I would try to not just go along with the flow, like a leaf floating down whatever branch in the stream the current carried me.
November 21, 2022 at 12:53 pm #1104Michael GrayParticipant
As I get older, I hear my peers lamenting their loss of memory. I’ve so far resisted that lament, even though I am aware of comparable losses. I persist in my belief that whatever remains is always the heart of being human. Perhaps I am fooling myself and accepting a self-serving view of reality: it must be real because every time I check it’s there.
What I find more troubling than an inability to recall particular names of people and things is that my memories increasingly feel like a lackluster chorus line dancing the same routines in the same order.
When I wrote this piece, I was not thinking of TSK; although in retrospect I was influenced by Rinpoche’s vision of linear time. I was searching for an alternative to being confined in a series of thoughts and events where each one is repeating something that has already happened.
I think my story is an exploration of the possibility of remaining in touch with the heart of time, even when memory vanishes in a drastic way (as with Alzheimer’s Disease). And when I returned to an earlier period of my life, I was searching for a quality of openness to the potential of the future, even when I have already lived through it once before. I suppose I hope that even when the future seems to be limited by what has come before, a spirit of discovery and growth can still be bursting at the seams of each arising moment.
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