A few years ago I recall eating lunch at my new job in the city. As I munched away on my sandwich I noticed a chalk outline in the gutter just behind me. A human had expired there just days before. A human felled by another human. There was no way to know whether good or evil had triumphed. Both had undoubtedly felt completely justified in their actions leading up to the decisive moment in which one would walk away and one would not.
The only fact that was certain was that a mother’s offspring had been extinguished. He or she had most certainly emanated from someone – as that is the only way to come into this world. That someone had engaged in the necessary activity in which to produce said outcome and had subsequently nourished, clothed and nurtured the product until maturation only to lose it in a matter of seconds. All that was left of all of those years of intensive attention and effort to mold a citizen whose name would linger upon the lips and in the hearts of those encountered while alive, were a few chalk marks in a gutter that would vanish with the next rain.
I, not unlike countless people around me, paused in varying intervals of time to reflect upon what once was and then politely stepped over the lines and moved on.
When you think about it the vast majority of our time is spent viewing the world in terms of things that we already possess and things that are possible to possess. In your home you are surrounded by objects you posses. Even your spouse and children are things that are inherently attached to you (whether they like it or not). When you venture into the city and browse through shops you see things that are possible to posses. If you’re single and looking you stare at ring fingers to see if the person who has caught your eye is already possessed or not (figuratively speaking of course ;)).
Nature isn’t necessarily immune from this viewpoint either. How many people capture animals and keep them as pets – thereby making the previously unpossessed possessed. In autumn as leaves fall to the ground, what you once could not reach high in the sky is now at our feet and utterly capable of becoming possessed. Trees that tower stories above your diminutive frame are capable of being felled and thereby possessed.
It’s not limited to humans either. Just click on any nature show and watch animals enacting the time honored tradition of hunter and prey – again possessed vs. unpossessed. Even the soil upon which we stand is in a constant state of flux. Avalanches, mudslides, earthquakes and eruptions are constantly overtaking what surrounds them and thereby irretrievably changing them.
I can’t help but think how interesting it would be to spend even a single hour of a single day out and about in my world and thinking in terms of what I can give instead of what I can take.
There is.a great poem by Yehuda Amichai in which he wishes his left eye could share with his right its particular view of his beloved so as the right would indeed have the fullest possible experience of admiring her. Instead of viewing it as a deficiency it is seen rather as an opportunity.
In some ways our entire physical makeup is based on the concept of sharing. The left leg couldn’t produce motion without assistance from the right. The right hand can write whilst the left does not or vice versa. Without two lungs you would struggle to take a full breath. The right ear when paired with the left produces not only a complete aural sense but also lets you know if danger is trying to sneak up on you unawares. There are tons of other examples. Duality is the cornerstone of who we are.
We need only look in the mirror to know that sharing is an intrinsic part of our being. So it seems nonsensical to not try to expand upon it by sharing our thoughts, feelings, visions and music making amongst a plethora of other sensations with those around us. In doing so we are expanding and thereby enriching their worldview ten fold beyond the duality we all start out with.
I remember sitting on the beach as a little girl and dipping my hand in the sand. As I pulled my hand out many grains of sand remained stuck to the warmth of my hand. I was fascinated by all the shapes and colours. I recognized all the beige, brown and black shades as well as the varying sizes of grains.
Even as we grow old we still see diversity all around us. In our backyards no two branches are identical, in the skies above we will never see the same cloud twice. Subconsciously we often extend our recognition of diversity into things we create. Watch the traffic pass by your window for a set period of time. How many cars are of different models and colours? As you drive around how many homes have different coloured curtains or window sill decorations?
The point being – we are not incapable of recognizing diversity. It saturates our natural and man made environments. We just need to open our eyes and realize that not embracing diversity and all it has to offer puts us outside the realm of normalcy and not vice versa.
When one is conjuring up memories of the past typically the first thing you pull out of storage are visual remembrances. A distant second would be sound memories. Yet one of the most potent memory conjures of them all are memories of scent. Yet it is one we rarely consciously consider.
Just think. Images of places can be reproduced either through photos, videos or other technological means of capturing a single visual moment. In the days before such technological marvels there were paintbrushes and even sticks of charcoal. Even if you were not intending to capture a specific moment, oftentimes someone else around you will have captured it unbeknownst to you. You can be in a library decades from now or surfing the web and all of a sudden there is that moment that you remember being a party to.
Sounds fall into a similar category in terms of being capable of being captured and re-experienced in their full original essence. For pre-phonograph days we often used our own voices or objects around us to depict at least a semblance of a sound we recall. Just think of babies saying “choo-choo” to describe a train or the old vaudeville days when rattling a sheet sounded like thunder.
The one element that, even with all the technology in the world, has largely evaded capture is smell. Not fragrances like floral perfumes mind you but memories we all grow up with – fresh cut grass, the sulphur from an extinguished birthday candle, cardboard from your favourite board game, the interior of your first car – the list is extensive. It is impossible to reproduce it as it was at that exact moment. Yet when we encounter a similar scent the memories come flooding back.
I think what makes memories extracted via smell even more special than those of our other senses is that it was unique to a singular moment in time. It’s a bit like falling in love. You’ll never forget that first skip in your heartbeat and are unlikely to ever have as magnificent an experience ever again.