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Signing up for the Future

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    • #1101
      Michael Gray

        Image:  ‘Signing Up For the ‘Future’, by Gerd Altmann – Pixabay


        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.


      • #1104
        Michael Gray

          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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