Saturday, December 3, 2011

Coming to One's Self

Only here, in rare moments when you are not absorbed in the tasks at work, the tasks at home, when you are not occupied by the mechanics of coming and going, of getting from one place to another; only here, at rest for a moment on the bus, your book still in your book bag, no one in the seat beside you, do you come to an awareness of yourself as your self, separate from any outside concern. It is not an entirely comfortable awareness. You catch your reflection, half sketched, transparent, lost like a ghost in the sea of the window's muddy glass. How did I get so old, so gray? You feel finite, unexpectedly fragile, aware of the arbitrary briefness of this, of all moments, of the infinite stretch of dark time before and after.

The continuity of the self, the narrative that we tell ourselves to connect moment to moment, day to day, year to year, is mostly illusion. When we are at work, we are the work, the task at hand absorbs us. Our awareness is of the task, of what is required for the task. In moments of relaxation, when we read, we are lost in what we are reading; when we watch TV we are lost in the television show, with it's own illusions of continuity punctuated by commercials. Even when we are doing nothing we avoid the confrontation, thinking about the past, daydreaming about some unlikely future. Our actual selves, the consciousness of self, is full of gaps, lacunae, vast swaths of memoryless, lost time. We are a collection of bright fragments like dust motes in a shaft of sunlight. Our life histories are stories we tell ourselves to connect the dots. That was me when I was in college. That was me in when I first starting work. Real memories mingle with imagination and we cannot tell the difference.

You cannot look too long at the reflection in the dirty window. It is too empty, too lonely. It brings up an emotion, nameless, but akin to the emotion that you have viewing gulls flying in silhouette over the gray surf on a desolate beach. You look away and pull a book from your bag to read.

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