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The Meaning of Life

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So, for those of you who don’t watch FB, there’s the news–my mother-in-law died yesterday morning.  This was not surprising.  Matt and I had gone up the day before to see her, and she was no longer able to speak, and not expected ever to be able to speak again.

But it was one of those things, if you know what I mean.  There’s a long way between “isn’t expected to” and “is.”  My mother, who went into the hospital at approximately the same time and wasn’t expected to recover, is in fact recovering nicely, and more alert and aware by the day.  Or, at least, that was what the nurse told me when I called last night.  I’ll call again this morning, and see.

I know that there are people who try to work out the “meaning” of all of this, but I’m not one of them.  For better or worse, I don’t seem to have much interest in the Meaning of Life as it’s usually understood.  Maybe I will when I’m older, I don’t know.

What strikes me about all this, and, interestingly enough, what has seemed to be striking Matt, is something else.  I am rapidly getting to the point when there is going to be nobody in my life who remembers the entire history of me, except me. 

I’m actually mostly there.  My brother and my father are gone, and although my mother is still alive she doesn’t remember me.  I remember sitting with her once, in the recreation room of the nursing home, when she turned me me suddenly and said, “I never had any children, did I?”

And that wasn’t a philosophical statement of some existential import.  She’d just forgotten–forgotten me, and my brother, and my father, and the more than fifty years of her marriage.

I do have cousins, but the ones I get along with grew up around D.C. and not around here, and the one’s I don’t get along with didn’t grow up here, either.  They were off in an entirely different world, so much of a different world that I tended to forget they existed when I went away to college and graduate school.

It’s not that I had such a wonderful childhood.  It was, at best, mixed, and I look back on it now as if I’d spent that entire time delusional.  I was not capable, at the time, of seeing it for what it was. 

Sometimes when I think about myself at that time of my life, I’m reminded of Bill’s line about John Lennon:  John Lennon was the only person in the world who had the opportunity to be John Lennon, and he  blew it.

I won’t say that I blew it, but I do seem to have spent my childhood and adolescence in a blur that was my inability to accurately perceive myself. 

I don’t know.  Maybe what I’m trying for here is not really available anywhere.  Maybe nobody else perceived me any more accurately than I perceived myself.  I certainly did not perceive my cousins (the ones I don’t get along with) accurately at all.

But maybe it’s just that some kinds of history exist only in the minds of the people who have lived it, and when those people die, the history dies with them.

And maybe it’s that it’s something of a shock to realize that things that mattered to me passionately once now matter not at all, because they don’t exist to matter.

If that makes sense.

Tomorrow, why con men and bank robbers are not in any way allowed under the schemata Rand put forward, and why Robert is geting that wrong.

But today, I’m just going to go off and have another funk.

Written by janeh

July 17th, 2010 at 8:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'The Meaning of Life'

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  1. My sympathies with the loss of your mother-in-law.

    I don’t look for the meaning of life in the odd coincidences of life – the way the people you expect to die don’t and so on. I do think I understand what you mean about being the last one who remembers you – but I think it’s worse that that.

    It’s been rather forcibly occurring to me for some time that I’m in a similar situation – made a little odder by the way my siblings and I are spread out over a fairly wide age range and there was a major family move in there which some of us made and some didn’t, and, well, basically there were two families, and even my mother, who was there through it all and does not suffer from dementia, sometimes gets confused over who did what. So the younger sibling I’m closest to essentially grew up in a ‘different’ family than I did and has all different memories.

    But what really boggled my mind was when it hit home how unreliable my own memories of my own childhood are. In theory, I knew this all along – blood relatives who were actually there tended to forget bits that were important to me, or to remember them differently. And there was a lot in my earliest years that was fuzzy; I had to expect those memories to be partly my own unreliable memories and partly memories of what I’d been told happened.

    When I realized I’d more or less invented out of whole cloth an incident in my teen-aged years – I think I ‘remembered’ what should have happened (in my mind) rather than what actually did, and I came across documentary proof that contradicted my memories – I decided that a lot of reality is simply inaccessible to anyone, even those who lived through it. And I can’t know for sure which bits of what I think are reality really were real; which are merely my interpretation (at the time or later) of ‘real reality’, and which are inventions I’ve cobbled together out of partial memories, other people’s memories, and the desire to make a good story.

    I have never thought about oral history or testimony in court cases about incidents that happened decades ago the same way since.

    And to me, that’s even scarier than knowing how much of my history is lost as each person who shared it with me, in turn, dies.

    Cheryl

    17 Jul 10 at 9:03 am

  2. Sorry about your mother in law. You do realize, don’t you, that the ONLY way not to wind up the only person who remembers your entire life is to die “out of sequence”–i.e., unusually young?

    I have five older family members left–none younger than 82, one past 90, so if I’m reasonably careful on I-95, that day will likely come. And I’m younger and generally in better health than my friends, so Kurt may very well have to hire mourners when THAT time comes. If HE goes first–well, there’s a small volunteer organization which sees to the burial of veterans who outlived everyone. Perhaps I’d best leave them a note and a copy of my DD-214.

    Concerning bandits and confidence men, I look forward to being refuted, but do it with rigor. It’s shocking the amount of dubious reasoning people will put up with if they like the final conclusion reached–and how hard they’ll fight a logical but distasteful conclusion.

    What is this FB I don’t watch?

    robert_piepenbrink

    17 Jul 10 at 10:38 am

  3. Facebook, Robert. Jane mentioned her mother in law’s death on Facebook. As I said there, Jane, I’m sorry to hear it. Not only is it part of the generation that remembers the past that’s lost, but she was a link to Bill’s family, and that probably hurts too.

    MaryF

    17 Jul 10 at 11:39 am

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