The most inscrutable dimension of the human experience is the separation that exists between lived reality and material reality—between the concrete, physical things and the feelings, emotions, and events that we experience as the biggest components of our lives—yet that are very often conceptual more conceptual in nature, strictly speaking, than we make them out to be.
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You subscribe to a magazine. It’ll be a month or two before the first print issue arrives. Your interest in it is vague, but perhaps you’ve been meaning to take up windsurfing, or gardening, or whatever—and the magazine will help. Time passes. You forget.
You receive divorce papers—or maybe word of the death of a friend. You attend a custody hearing—or is it a funeral? The world falls apart. You spend days alone in grieving. You consider seeing a therapist. You wonder how you will go on. Finally, after days and days of deepening, darkening isolation, you finally put together the strength to drag yourself to the mailbox for the first time since it all happened.
And there is your windsurfing magazine. Or your gardening newsletter. The one you subscribed to all those weeks ago. You stare and stare at it.
Or you’re at home on a normal weekend. The laundry needs to be done and you do it. It takes so very long to dry the towels in the machine; you muse on the need for a new dryer. Finally you get them out. As you fold them, you absent-mindedly appreciate their warmth and softness. You stack the folded towels neatly in the linen closet.
A few days later, you’re in a car accident. Your car is totaled and you have to buy another one. There are insurance claims to deal with. The other party in the accident is in the hospital. There are claims and counterclaims. Several police conversations. Perhaps court dates are scheduled.
Meanwhile, you buy a new car. It’s very different from your old car, a big change and a large expense you hadn’t planned to have for another few years—maybe even another decade. The other party experiences significant complications. Now, they’re in need of a donor organ. Your life becomes a matter of intensive waiting for news about this other party, half your enemy, half your comrade in a strange kind of battle, and their quest to save their life.
You find yourself driving back and forth to the hospital in your new, strange car. Now you’ve made the trip four times in two days. You come home, red-eyed, full of bewilderment about the turn your life is taken. You go to shower. You open the closet.
There are your towels. Short days ago, you were trying to decide whether or not to buy a new dryer, then telling yourself it’s a needless luxury, because look—they’re beautiful and soft and fresh.
There they sit, nicely folded. You almost can’t pick one up. You can’t believe that they still exist. The fact of their presence in the closet, sitting there as if nothing had happened, makes the world seem insane.
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In all my nearly forty-four years of life, this is the sensation that I still am most mystified by—that I simply can’t figure out and don’t know what to do with.
The sudden realization that the larger objective world has gone on its merry way as it always does even if your own little subjective universe has seen catastrophes and holocausts seemingly unbounded—and that the person that you were a few days or a few weeks before—a person whose story you know and whose activities you’re intimately familiar with—is nonetheless no longer you, but has passed on and is entirely dead.
You have somehow been born anew, a new person in new circumstances with a new future unimaginable to the previous you that no longer is.
It’s the strangest sensation on earth.