Arriving at my sister’s house in Canada, for my first visit in a dozen years, an odd familiarity arose, mixed with a feeling of dislocation. Almost everything was familiar from previous visits, so I would have expected a simple process of reorientation as my present self adapted to these already familiar surroundings. On one level that was what happened. I found it a bit challenging to make myself a cup of coffee that first morning: searching for light switches, locating the coffee, paper filters, plastic filter holder and a cup, etc. On the level of these practical adjustments to someone else’s kitchen, the process was never anything that stood out from my well-worn strategies for incorporating the unfamiliar into my routines.
So it definitely caught my attention when, at some point soon after our arrival, I noticed that I was unable to bring to mind an image of our living room back in Albuquerque, in the home from which my wife and I had departed early the previous morning.
Attempting to visualize that very familiar room, an image filled my mind of my parent’s living room in Pointe Claire, on the West end of Montreal Island, into which I last stepped more than half my life ago.
I should acknowledge that this casting back across the stream of time to the house of my childhood and adolescence, must have been influenced by the fact that my sister’s living room contains a lot of furniture and other items from our childhood home (including an old wind-up music box, paintings by our Uncle John, kerosene miners lamps from our grandfather, old couches, re-upholstered, etc.). So—no big surprise—my mind was carried back into the meadows of memory, and (unlike a dog, a cat, or a turtle who can make their way back physically to the locale of their inception) I rely on imagination in order to revisit the scene of these earlier experiences.
Yet, finding that my memory of my present home was blocked by those more distant remembrances, I felt my working assumption (that what I remember together with my remembering mind are anchored in a reliable ‘reality’) being called into question.
I certainly don’t want to suggest that I live in a realm in which nothing really matters or that my relationship with others is not at the heart of my life. But I wonder if I glimpsed a slight-of-hand involved in the ‘exhibitions’ of appearance, and that my assumption that I live in a pre-existing, once-and-for-all created world, is not as well-founded as I usually ‘believe’.
What about those reports from people who have temporally died and who, when they return to the realm of the living, say that their lives passed before them? It’s so interesting to think that my entire life, under certain conditions, can become accessible through a kind of time that blossoms independently of the versions of the ‘past’ which my mind ‘knows’ as a sequential series.
So for a day or two, returning to my sister’s house after a dozen years, I found my mind with one foot in memories of the 33 years during which I lived in Canada. Friends, girlfriends, relatives and parents, kept knocking on the door of my present mind. The situations, living places, and relationships from that time seemed like mist coming off the sea, altering my sense that I inhabit a stable time and place in this world, apart from those drifting presences.
This felt more like an expression of possibility than a loss of stable grounding. My Albuquerque living room’s willingness to step aside and allow me to visit other living rooms–which ‘once upon a time’ were just as familiar as the one to which I returned two days ago in Albuquerque–feels like an act of gracious accommodation, on the part of space, of the dynamic fluidity revealed in the adventure of life. Now, back in my familiar home, trying to catch up with all the routines that constitute the structure of my familiar life, I wish to express my appreciation for this recent ‘vacation’ from my ordinary, predictable ‘reality’.