One of my cherished morning rituals, when I couldn’t get my kids out of bed to go to school, was to blast Guns N’ Rose’s “Welcome to the Jungle” throughout the house. I thought of that ritual this morning as I poured a cup a black coffee and sat quietly in the big leather chair to watch the sun rise. My solitude was only disturbed by the sound of wrens and robins waking up on the pear tree outside. It was a thoughtful morning, the kind I like now that I’m older, so I took a sip of coffee and picked up a book sitting next to my cup. I was struck by the first sentence I read: “There are many lifetimes, in a lifetime.”
Was this some sort of pitch for reincarnation, I wondered? Then I reread the sentence and glanced up to watch the sun’s rays inch over the canyon wall. Because I’d been thinking about my children, I considered that lifetime, the one I’d led in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I was rushed and harried, always managing meals, clothing, appointments, and celebrations. But I was young. I had thick dark hair and firm, line-less skin.
I could do push-ups, and climb mountains, and eat a plate of spicy spaghetti without a hint of acid indigestion.
That lifetime, the 1990’s, was truly another lifetime. The internet had not been invented yet so we spent time on telephones, looking up information in encyclopedias, and watching VHS videotapes we rented from Blockbuster Video. We didn’t just look different back then, we were different, even at the cellular level. According to Stanford University, the human body replaces itself with new cells every seven to ten years.
More importantly, we were not the same people emotionally and intellectually in that 1990 lifetime. Which is a good thing, considering some of the misses (mis-takes, mis-haps, and mis-steps) I made back then. Like that time I drank too much at a faculty Christmas party. I lost my balance and tossed a plate of chicken wings down the front of some glittery dress next to me. I don’t like loud parties anymore, and I care even less about drinking too much.
Sometimes we forget that though our past belongs to us, we do not belong to our past. We live many lifetimes in a lifetime. That was then, this is now. We do not have to be defined by our crazy youth, frustrated parenthood, or career-driven mid-life. Those were all our identities at one time, but I live now, in this space—and it’s different.
In fact, if we don’t move on to the next lifetime, we’ll inevitably run into trouble.
For example, a friend of mine was traveling through Kalispell, Montana with her husband when she decided to look up an old boyfriend who lived there. She said it’d been nearly twenty years since she’d last seen this fellow. They decided to have lunch together at a downtown restaurant, my friend and her husband, and her old beau and his newly pregnant wife. She said it was so great to see her ex. She laughed and talked to him in that old, familiar way. She looked at her former boyfriend and said, “Oh, you were always such a renegade!” Then suddenly the boyfriend moved closer to his wife and picked up her hand to hold it. “Am I a renegade honey?” he asked his wife. My friend said she felt so embarrassed. She’d temporarily lost herself in another lifetime when she’d had a relationship with this man.
I saw a movie in about 1990, a videotape I must have rented from Blockbuster. The Mission starred that handsome young actor Robert De Niro. De Niro played a conquistador in the 1600’s who’d killed his brother in a jealous rage. Broken with shame and regret, De Niro’s conquistador turned to the church for help. He made a harrowing trek up the face of a cliff to a church mission at the top. His journey up the cliff was made infinitely more dangerous because the conquistador insisted on carrying his armor, and the sword he killed his brother with, on his back. When he finally clawed his way over the rim of the precipice, a priest came and cut away his heavy back pack.
I’ll never forget that scene, De Niro as the conquistador, laughing into the sky, free finally from the bonds of his past. It’s a lesson for all of us. We are fortunate to live many lifetimes in a lifetime.
Image Credit: 1990 Diana Hooley Image Credit: Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher Image Credit: The Mission