I recalled an experience from adolescence the other day, and the “me” in that recollection seemed more unreal than a dream or a character in a novel I’d read. It was a disconcerting moment.
Such a thought seems autumnal to me, though not just because it’s early November and the leaves on the trees outside my study have turned deep gold and red. I rather believe such thoughts are only possible at a certain age, when enough time has passed for memory to conflate with dreams.
And that memory—I mean the personal narrative of the remembered me, the narrative of Christopher Cook—has assumed another quality, as well. It is no longer an unbroken thread. Instead, what I experience when looking back is a formless shape, a perplexing and murky jumble, and I have to carefully pick my way through it to find a particular event. Along the way, while dredging up something that occurred when I was 15 or 21 or 30, I stumble onto other events long forgotten.
In truth, memory in this stage of life, the middle or late-middle years, becomes something of a labyrinth. If I spend much time in it, I inevitably get confused, and often become lost. That would have happened to Theseus, too, if his thread had broken. I sometimes find myself avoiding the maze altogether.
I don’t recall doing that when I was younger. But then, I didn’t have such a long story to keep straight in those days. I wonder if it would be easier if I had stayed in one place instead of roaming the world. Would staying in a particular location have provided me a sturdy spindle upon which to roll the thread of my journey, giving it a sense of continuity and order? Can space provide what time does not? I’ll never know. But I suspect not.
Time is a mysterious phenomenon. It is, as someone once noted, much like life: just one damn thing after another. Its passage is both mundane and somehow incomprehensible. We know it is happening yet we cannot understand it. When we try to grasp it, the notion squirts away from us, ever elusive.
So what was the experience remembered from my early years that set off this chain of thoughts? I don’t recall. And I’m not sure I succeeded in unraveling it from the rest of the past so that I could see it very clearly. Most likely not. At best, I probably caught a brief glimpse of it, a fleeting picture that came together then dissolved almost immediately.
The ancient wisdom we are told is surely true: all we have for certain is this moment. And I would add this: the past seems no more certain than the future. In the end, both must be taken on faith.
That is, no doubt, another autumnal thought. Well, it’s that time of year. So it seems only right to share it. While it’s fresh, you know.
On that note, I better go. But I’ll see you on down the road. Until then, I wish you an unbroken thread of lovely moments. And may you not get lost.