Time Passages and Fully Living Life

   Italy unlocked the strangest secret to me this week. I've just returned from there, where I spent more time (almost 3 weeks) than ever before because with airfare skyrocketing, it's uncertain how much longer I'll be able to afford to go.

   The first day back was completely surreal because on the one hand, thinking back over all the things that happened on the trip through Rome, Pienza and the Tuscan countryside, Fiesole, Parma, Bologna, Vicenza, Venice, Florence, and back to Rome again, it seemed like several months since the beginning of the trip. On the other hand, sleeping in my own bed, showering in my own shower, making coffee in my own kitchen, and riding my bike to the office seemed like things I'd done just... yesterday. Not before the seemingly months-long trip. How can this be?

   I'm no brain scientist, but I do have a fascination with the ways we remember. And I'm wondering if maybe our minds have a kind of shorthand for the things we do many times, so that instead of creating a whole new memory from scratch, it instead says "I did one of those things again for the umpteenth time"?

   If that is so, then one could spend years doing mostly repetitive things and have few memories to show for it. Doing so would seem to impoverish the mind and possibly even the spirit. This mechanical paradigm has been the ideal of the Era of the Company that began with the Industrial Revolution, and thrived on armies of humans as cogs in the machine, doing the same thing each day, living for the weekend. At its extreme, a life spent this way might seem like little more than a few weeks from graduation to retirement, assuming someone worked the same place and did the same thing throughout their career.

   In the end, maybe the secret to a long life isn't how late we die. Rather, maybe it's how fully we have lived. Put another way, living 100 years repetitively is not nearly so good as living 1/3 that long most meaningfully.

© 2012 The Guild Foundation Press