Your Wild and Precious Life
I am going to start by mentioning a funeral, but this is not in sadness. I may cry as I write though. Bear with me. As the celebrant spoke about my friend’s life and her loved ones spoke about their lives with and without her, I looked at the pain on their faces. Watched them watching the coffin. A body inside, life snuffed out. Our hearts beating, hers not.
Outside, the sun was throwing gold all over the place. The trees were lit up with red and amber and earlier rainfall had made the grass pearlescent. Did everyone, I wondered see it the way I saw it? As a gift, or a coincidence?
The celebrant mentioned the experience of life as an individual thing, and it got me thinking.
I live with four other people, drink from the same mugs, eat from the same forks. My clothes are jumbled up with theirs in the washing pile, we dry our faces on the same towel. And yet we are not the same. Every second I am alive, I am living my experience of life. Not my husband’s, or my daughter’s. Not my friend’s or my dogs’, my parents’, but mine.
I didn’t realise until I sent this post to a friend, that I am talking about Solipsism, a word I couldn’t pronounce, let alone know the meaning of. Solipsism, from the Latin solus 'alone', and ipse 'self' is the philosophical idea that only one's mind is sure to exist. Solipsism holds that knowledge of anything outside one's own mind is unsure; the external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist outside the mind’ [Wikipedia]. To put it plainly, Solipsism is sometimes expressed as the view that “I am the only mind which exists,” or “My mental states are the only mental states.” [Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy].
Solipsism is often attached to words like narcissism and eccentricity, but I don’t see it that way. How can we truly understand other people’s plights and delights if they are not the same as our own? Trying to take our ‘self’ out of our thoughts and reactions to other people’s problems is nigh on impossible. What’s the quote? “Do not judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins”? Well how can we ever tread the path of someone else’s mind? My path through my years on earth is a solitary one. And so is yours. Not because we are alone, but because the way we see and feel and interpret everything around us is unique. No two snowflakes are the same. I am a culmination of nature and nurture. I am small flakes of a million different family members. I lived inside my great, great grandmother’s ovaries. I have seen and heard things you haven’t. I have made choices you didn’t. I have craved what you don’t. I don’t get why you don’t find funniness in what I find funny. Or why my brother prefers Star Trek to Star Wars. The only person who makes sense to me is … me. I have been shaped by people and perspectives and pain. By the events I have witnessed, instigated, won and lost. I am incomparable. So are you. I can only see you through my tiny narrow perspective and you can only see me through yours. To put some science behind it:
“The emerging picture of human cognitive evolution suggests that we are largely creatures of our own making. The distinctive features of humanity—our intelligence, creativity, language, as well as our ecological and demographic success—are either evolutionary adaptations to our ancestors’ own cultural activities or direct consequences of those adaptations. For our species’ evolution, cultural inheritance appears every bit as important as genetic inheritance.”
What Made Us Unique: How we became a different kind of animal By Kevin Laland
So perhaps red to me is green to you. I don’t know. I only know the version of life that I live in my head, the colours as I see them. I only know how honey tastes to me. I have realised, as chewing on this that I love my husband because he is not me. We share common interests, but I admire his brain. His view on life. The things he can do that I can’t. Love then might be wonder. The unique experience that my friend had of life is over. I am still here, having mine and this is what I can take from that. Love a little harder, judge a little less. In the words of Billy Corgan: “Who belongs? Who decides who's crazy? Who rights wrongs where others cling?”
I don’t want to be anything other than myself, unapologetically and without judgement, and I don’t want the people I love to be anything other than this either. We can choose what to do about our desires and our dreams, but our primal instincts, our lizard brains, those are ours.
That is all we are. Let us love with wonder, with curious admiration. Let’s set fire to the words “If I were you.”