Only Echoes—Stuart Davis
Our past lives have been on my mind lately. I don’t mean this in a reincarnation sense; rather, I refer to the many phases of our lives that we have each gone through and how one phase can be so completely different from another that it really seems like another life. We’ve all used the phrase “It feels like a lifetime ago.” Maybe there’s some more literal truth to that. In essence, isn’t it possible that, fundamentally, we are different people when we experience a different part of our lives as we grow older, circumstances change, careers progress, childhood falls away. We’ve each been taught different lessons in the different parts of our lives, molding, shaping, forming us into who we are in this current life. Every few years we experience a rebirth, phoenix rising from the ashes of our lessons. Or maybe it’s that we cycle through butterfly stages, recreating a cocoon periodically to emerge ever more beautiful.
Childhood is a very obvious past life. Those formative years set us up to be who we are today—or rather, they formed the framework of how we will grow and change as we got older. I’ve heard it said more than once that the liberal arts are less about learning facts and figures and more about learning how to learn. I think the same is true of childhood—it’s not about growing up, but learning how to grow. By experiencing so many radical changes over the course of some fifteen, eighteen years our method of rigidity or flexibility to change is formulated and solidifies. From there on out, we have developed the base from which our personality will be hammered against the anvil of life and whether we are malleable or brittle and how we learn the lessons. Any little word from parents or teachers or friends or enemies at this formative time can, unbidden, resurface at any time in our life, throwing us back into the point of life where we were when we heard it. Sometimes this can be affirming but it’s more likely that these thoughts will be the negative as the negative sticks in memory far more tenaciously than the praise and affirmations that we received. I work through these thoughts constantly; small, inconsequential actions I took, words I spoke, insults traded flit and float through my mind, sometimes surfacing in dreams and sometimes commandeering my entire conscious until I deal with them. Twenty years later, a derogatory word can still sting.
But childhood, once we’ve entered the world beyond high school, still seems so far away—truly, a past life. Everything about what we do is different. The daily routines that are “life” have completely changed. All that remains the same is some sense of life, how we grow, how we learn. Each laugh we laugh, tear we cry, joy we share, sorrow we feel, must somehow affect us and slowly by slowly change us into a different person with a different life, right?
The next phase of life, after high school, is an obvious one. It’s then that we begin to grow into our skins. College was the place where I developed my ethics and morals, discovered drinking and sex, informed my life via my study of philosophy, dove into the world of politics, separated ideals from idealism. And then it was on to my first life in Los Angeles, my life in Chicago, and now my second life in LA… so separated and different from the first. A different job in a much more healthy environment has served to permanently remove myself from the lascivious world I was living in before. Much more stable and healthy and sound, I navigate through the daily world more secure in myself and my future.
I was reminded recently of the cyclical nature of our lives, though. I was reminded by a friend of the myth of Persephone, and how the story can be interpreted as:
He put it beautifully. Life in LA began on the top half and descended into the bottom half. Chicago was my underworld where I healed from the scars both inflicted and self-inflicted upon myself during my first life in LA. And now I have emerged from that life and returned to the community, to myself, to the world at large as a stronger, healthier person.
Each life signals a rebirth. Each life brings with it its challenges. I will be healing, learning from the scars for several years to come, but it’s almost as if I’m working off the karma of a previous life, seeking to restore the balance and free my soul from the trappings of the world. I’ve been told I have an ‘old soul’ by more than one person, and perhaps that’s true. Perhaps my analogy of past lives carries with it far more truth than we can ever reveal or verify as true. We can only strive to feel it, to touch it, to seek harmony between past and present.
Lessons learned and lessons yet to come.