I am so much lost in the urgency of today, that I have nearly forgotten my life. I busy myself with the tasks I must do, and fail to remember the joy. I have trouble dredging up even a single moment from my years in boy scouts, camping in tents, under stars, in the rain. I have trouble remembering grade school, the time I was a crossing guard, the field trips, the concerts for young people. It is hard to remember high school: classes, teachers, friends, the things I did. And college—where did that go? What did I do? Do I remember anyone? Do I remember any of the proms I went to, what happened? How about the senior class weekend at Catalina? I can see my diploma on the wall; the same thing for my graduate degrees. That's not the same as remembering.
Do I remember the kibbutz in
Israel? Working with the chickens? I mean, not just that I was there, but the details, like the smell, or a particular incident? Can I close my eyes and relieve bits of my life, remembering what I did? I don't know that I can. The further back, the less I seem to be able to recall.
So am I alive, if I've forgotten my life?
This week I cleaned out my garage; it had been years. My wife is very pleased with the results. In the process, I uncovered two notebooks filled with my journals that I kept when I worked on a kibbutz in Israel a couple of summers while I was in college. I had not thought much about that time in some long while, and seeing those journals and thumbing through them brought back a flood of memories. It made me wonder what had become of that part of me, and about the other older parts of me and bits of life that had faded with the years.
Have you ever felt this way? And did you ever stop long enough to contemplate where you are and who you are and to wonder, how did I get here to this place, where I am now? Did you ever try to bring back those memories, to capture a sense of what you were?
Socrates is quoted as writing that the unexamined life is not worth living. A corollary of that is the cliché that those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it. We tend to think of that in cosmic terms, in reference to learning the history of humanity as a whole. Better, I think, to think in terms of our own lives, to remember what we have done, who we are, where we have been. The better not to repeat our own mistakes.
How often have we seen people who keep doing the same stupid things over and over again? How many celebrities have we seen that keep cycling through marriages as if they were eating potato chips? And speaking of potato chips, how often do we cycle through diets, losing ten pounds and then eating them all back and then some? Why can’t we remember our own lives and learn something from them?
In serving on a jury recently I got to peek into a rather sordid set of lives. The mother of the child abuse victim was unmarried and had a total of five children, each with a different last name. And now her oldest daughter, likewise unmarried, has three children by the man we convicted of sexually molesting her twelve year old sister. They moved frequently, from one rented place to another, one low end job to another. There was both drug and alcohol abuse. Looking at each person who came into the courtroom, sat on the stand, gave their testimony, I wondered if they were ever happy. Did they ever think that perhaps there might be a different way to function, a different way to pass through life?
How often do any of us ever stop and look at our lives and ask ourselves, “Is this really the way I want to live?” Is there really nothing I can do to alter the ruts I’ve let myself fall into? Am I satisfied living this way? A friend of mine once asked a teenager who every weekend partied till dawn and drank like a fish and then puked her guts out if she really was having a good time. And party animal’s response was, “You mean, I don’t have to do this?”
No, we don’t have to live like this. Change actually is possible. Make an appointment to consider the whirl of your life. Try to look at it like a stranger might contemplate it, or the way a scientist might examine a new species of bug. Think about what matters to you and what you’d like, and then decide if you want to stay the course, or if maybe some alterations might be in order.
And see if you can remember your life.