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Life stories

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

As time passes, we forget some memories and pick up new ones. We do not simply add them to our life story: we revisit our past, we cut and replace. We don't build a succession of stories but rewrite one story above the other. The life story we tell in our 50's is not the sum of the stories we told in our 40's and 30's, but a whole new story that keeps living: we keep rewriting the whole thing. How surprising it can be to be faced with a trace of who we once were: notes we wrote in the margin of a book we read ten years ago or an old school essay. We feel like a detective who found a major clue. The kaleidoscope of our past selves (occasionally convened by our poor memory and stumbled upon through random memorabilia) can exercise a fascinating pull.

Did you ever try to find out from people you know and once knew, the stories you used to tell about yourself? The justifications you gave for life-altering decisions at the time you made them, and how you reflected on them later on? Your past explaining selves, although they should feel somewhat familiar to you, may surprise you.

Autobiographies are written from a single perspective, a single narrator. What happens when all your past narratives re-emerge and collide? Does age give us the strength to hold to one narrative while hearing the others?

At the heart of our life lies a mystery only known by others, a story of our "whys" that will always escape us. It is not the story of us but a story of everything: of all the persons we were and all the worlds we shaped, the homes we lived in, the people we touched and all the traces we left and will survive us, our children, our writings, our possessions, our discoveries.

When a journalist asked the English mountaineer George Mallory, as he was planning to summit Mount Everest for the third time, why he wanted to climb the mountain, he responded –"Because it's there"[i]. The best reasons, the only enduring ones, we cannot find in ourselves.

[i] “Climbing Mount Everest Is Work For Supermen", New York Times, March 18th, 1923)

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