Is journalling my attempt to create ripples?
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Maya Angelou
I mentioned a while ago (Especially For You, 19th Feb) about the Christmas diary and my first attempts to become a diarist. Apparently journalling is not necessarily a daily pursuit. My daily entries never managed to reach February, despite several school boy attempts.
I never quite lost my desire, although it took 40 years to rekindle and become an everyday part of my life. Perhaps my incentive to share became stronger with my three children and a realisation that I now have a maximum of 32 years to live, give or take. I’ve agreed a pact with my youngest that I will try and hang on until I’m 92. He’ll be 50, old enough to look after himself.
We die three times
David Eagleman (neuroscientist) wrote a wonderful piece called Metamorphosis in a collection of stories about the afterlife. The first death is when the body stops functioning; the second when the body is cremated or buried and the third is in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.
He expands his thoughts in a story which takes place in a huge, infinite waiting area. It could easily be set in an airport terminal. A wide, long corridor which disappears into the distance. There are aisles of seats, evenly lit by fluorescent lighting. Between the aisles are tables where you can help yourself to tea, coffee and biscuits. You are free to talk to any of the people present at any time, because nobody sleeps in this global community. Have a chat with Charles Dickens, Charles 1 of England or Charles Darwin, they remain here as do many other names because they haven’t been called yet.
The Callers can come at any time. They could interrupt a conversation you were having. Once called, that name, your name perhaps, will never again be remembered on earth. Ironically, the call often coincides when loved ones arrive because they were the only ones still remembering you. Leaving is through a door which no one has ever returned from. The Callers are kind and say it is a better place.
Others feel trapped in the terminus, because a statue, building or room, bears their name on earth. No one remembers who the person was anymore, just the fact that they have an exam or lecture there. A few wait patiently for their statues to finally be removed.
The reality of the room is clear; everyone in it has lost control of their life. They only live on in the heads of those who continue to remember.
Eagleman talks about the room being cursed. The tea and biscuits, the option to talk to anyone from great historical heroes and villains to your next door neighbour is a veil for what the room truly represents, a conscious awareness of the distortion of your former self. The waiting room, the conscious bit, is only a story, albeit a good one.
The effect in psychological terms is called rippling and is usually perceived positively. Irvin Yalom, explains rippling in his book, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Dread of Death , although he doesn’t claim to be the owner of the idea.
Rippling refers to the fact that each of us creates - often without conscious thought or knowledge - concentric circles of influence that may affect others for years, even for generations. That is, the effect we have on other people is in turn passed on to others, much as the ripples in a pond go on and on until they’re no longer visible but continuing at a nano level.
He agrees with Eagleman that preserving personal identity after death, aside from a few exceptions, is impossible. But we can share our life experiences with others while we are still alive. Proof of this principle has helped many with death anxiety. I presume we get stuck somewhere in the pointlessness of our own existence. This is exacerbated by our own sense of self and the destruction of it when we die. We start to feel better when we realise that our contribution to life, our influence on others, has on some level been helpful.
This doesn’t alter the fact that published writers do leave a more obvious lasting impression. Salman Rushdie likes writing because there is no retirement age and your literary works, if you’re as good as him, means a lot of tea and biscuits. He’s also fond of quoting his friend Martin Amis,
“What you hope to do is leave behind a shelf of books.”
Is this why I now have an unbroken habit of 5 years, committing pen to paper every day? It is certainly self-centred and cathartic and I recommend it to everyone.
I play games with it. I always assume that it will only ever be read by my children or Donna, and only after I die. Who else would care? There are secrets hidden in plain view. The key lies in the fact that you have to read it, but which pages in all those years hold the good bits? One of my favourite activities is talking to my children in the future. It’s as close to a real time machine as I’m ever likely to get. I assume that they will read what I’m writing now, 30 or more years hence. You can have a different conversation with someone who’s similar in age an experience. To try and ensure that I’m read occasionally, each child (there are three) has a dedicated page on their birthday. There, they can find out what I really think of them. I wonder how they’ll feel about that?