©2014 by Jack A. Urquhart 786 words
There is nothing new in this, of course. We humans have been obsessed with life’s transience since we first learned to count, bedeviled by the meaning and miracle of our existence ever since the first synaptic impulse to contemplate our navels.
Perhaps the difference today is that technology has exacerbated our metacognitive tendencies, accelerated the frequency and rate of our obsessions. For who, in this age of electronic gadgetry and Internet omnipresence, would deny that we have more ways than ever to track the passage of our lives, more information (far more than we might sometimes wish) to fuel our expeditions in Omphaloskepsis—to draw upon in contemplating the significance of being alive.
By way of personal example, I cite the compulsive introspection that this morning sent me surfing across several online “days of your life” calculation sites (here’s one of them) that can, in the blink of an eye, compute the length of time one has been out and alive in the world.
Here is what I learned—that, as of September 18, 2014, my life tally amounts to:
887 lunar months
464 dog years
68.11 lunar years
These calculations exclude the normal nine months of human gestation. That means that if I subscribed to all the tenets of the various “Personhood Initiatives,” (I do not), I could add another 270 +/- days in hours, minutes, seconds, etc., to the various above-noted reckonings.
But it wasn’t the computational specifics—not any desire to know the exact number of days, hours, minutes, etc.—that prompted my Internet investigations. Rather, it was because I couldn’t help wondering how many moments—out of the nearly 2.1 billion seconds (it turns out) of my life to date—had retained a consequential place in memory? How many of them had carried the bulk and resonance of meaning? I couldn’t help wondering what that tally might say about the huge swaths of my life that have vanished into a black hole of lost time and recollection—and more to the point, what might such a tally imply about the relative meaning of my life?
Daunting questions, I’ll grant, and not ones likely to yield reliable answers. Nevertheless, this die-hard (hopeful pun intended) navel gazer decided to pursue an unscientific experiment in that direction.
To wit, I set about recollecting and denoting (via the scientific method of check marks on tablet paper) as many significant life events as thirty minutes and a faulty memory would allow. By ‘significant’, I intended a moment in time important enough to spring, specifics intact, readily to mind. For example, a first love, lost love, last love. Or more precisely, my spouse’s surprise marriage proposal after 14 years of togetherness (Friday, September 28, 2012), the first time I heard “Rhapsody in Blue” (June 1958, 4th Grade, end of school year concert), weeping over the last page of To Kill a Mockingbird (November 9, 1962), my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon (July, 1970).
The wondrous births of my children.
My son’s death; my mother’s sudden passing.
You get the idea.
So how many checks were on my list at the end of that half hour, how many ‘significant’ memories readily summoned?
Big drumroll: 118.
What might that signify, I found myself wondering post clumsily executed experiment? What if anything could be gleaned from a mere 118 recollected moments out of hundreds of millions?
That would be the gazillion dollar question, wouldn’t it? The one, that given the paltriness of my checklist, I wasn’t sure I wanted to waste anymore time considering. And yet, and yet…there was—no, there is—something that stands out for me in contemplating the significance of those 118 memories. And that is that every last one of them centers on a moment so beautiful, so joyous, frightening, heart wrenching—so mind boggling and compelling—as to have stopped time.
As to have overcome caterwauling distraction.
As to have revealed a God Particle of insight and intuition, an excitement of understanding that imparts mass and weightiness to everything else, a reaction that once begun cannot be turned off.
As when we apprehend (the first time, and ever thereafter) what a curse, and a blessing, and a never-ending mystery is love, is loss.
Is a sudden spring snow; is a Chopin Berceuse.
Is being alive.
Who knows, perhaps that is as much meaning, as much understanding—as much of any God—as some of us can hope to tally in 24,137 days.