The Living Dead

William Faulkner famously said that, “The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” The older I get, and the more past I accrue, the more I agree with Faulkner. This was made particularly clear to me while writing, and then rewriting, my memoir. And when I say rewriting I don’t mean merely trimming here and adding there, I mean rewriting – actually reimagining – the story that had been my life as if it were a different story than the one I had always known and thought I had always lived. As I wrote back in December, writing a memoir is a bit like being handed a time machine where one can correct the errors of the past. All errors are errors of perception, of perceiving lack where there has always been enough. This is precisely why Faulkner had it right. If as a young man you are not accepted to a prestigious college to which you applied, and if you tell yourself the story that the world is crowded with talented and ambitious people jostling for the few slots at the finest schools; and if you tell yourself that the world is simply too crowded to allow all the talented and ambitious people the schooling they deserve and so life’s rewards go only to the lucky or the connected and not the ambitious or able; and if you tell yourself that without this specific schooling the already crowded world of work and jobs will narrow even further because better schooling means better opportunity; and if you believe this story you tell yourself when you are a young man, and if you never correct the error of this perception, you will live forever within the error, as if you are still that young man, only getting physically older every day.

I still dream of waiting tables, the profession I supposedly left five years ago. I awaken from such dreams and spend the first heartbeats of the day solving the puzzle that dream had presented me, the puzzle of how to get coffee to table 42 when the coffee machine is broken, of how to take the order from table 61 when that table had been moved to a deserted building across the street. If I could only solve this puzzle, my job would be done, and I would be free.

This is waking that feels like dreaming. All my waiting dreams are unsolvable puzzles, and it is the easiest thing to carry the need to solve what cannot be solved with me through the day. When I do so, the pieces of the world appear scattered across the tabletop of life, infinite and beyond my knowing, and yet inviting me to try, for I sense the wholeness within the chaos. And so in such moments the past is not past, and I am still waiting to perceive the world as whole.

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