Russian dolls

Walking up the hill from the beach this morning, negotiating with the three tiny terrorists about whether or not they would be allowed to ever buy another toy at Lawlor’s and whether or not I would ever be allowed to buy a toy at Lawlor’s because everybody had tantrums again this morning, including me, I heard a voice shouting my name.

I turned and saw a man in his forties and his daughter; they had just walked past me. ‘Jacqueline – it is you isn’t it? You are exactly the same!’
I didn’t recognise the man in front of me. He had bright grey hair, a tattoo on his leg. He seemed to know me well. ‘Jacqueline, it’s me!’ And yes, finally, there he was, I saw him; an old friend from more than 20 years ago. We hung around a lot when he was around 19; I was a year older. I didn’t see the 19-year-old boy I remembered in front of me, at all. He had dark brown hair, was slightly built, always smiling. He had been a young-looking 19, and now, well, he was grown up.

It got me thinking about something I read by Wayne Dyer. It was a reflection on who the ‘I’ is. How can ‘I’ be my body, he said, if my body has changed so radically over the years. Now I am 70 (he said at the time of writing); I am not that baby I was, that toddler, or teenager. My body is not the same as it was when I was a young man, it is totally different. He goes on to say that ‘the I is your higher self, changeless and real.’ This is his spiritual conclusion. It might not be yours; it might be mine – I don’t know yet.

I haven’t a clue who I am, really, but I know ‘I’ am not that person I was more than 20 years ago. I’ve read somewhere that all the cells in our body replace themselves every seven years (don’t think it’s strictly true but it’s kind of comforting), but who is beyond that? Does your higher self change? I think it stays the same, your essence from birth, but it gets all muddied over as your life goes on. Then you feel that cliched urge to find yourself, go on a spiritual quest, look for something more – however you want to term it. It happens to us all.

It was odd to see my friend; I struggled to see the boy inside of him but of course he is still there. It made me think that we are all like Russian Dolls, our past selves all bottled and layered up inside of us. Also: how on earth does time work? How can I be walking up a little hill by a beach, then reconnect with someone from so long ago, and it seem like a whole swathe of time hasn’t passed? Is this what it’s like if you are lucky enough to make it to 70, to make it to 90 – you circle around events and people in your life, losing them and reconnecting, remaining in awe at the gaping speed in which the years have passed? These are all simple and basic questions – I know that. Like – why the hell is time so painfully slow when you are young? What makes it speed up so radically as you age? I don’t understand this.

Anyway; I’ll be catching up with this old friend this week. He made me laugh then, he still does now. We can fill in the gaps – this happened, then I did this for so many years, then this. Then we can marvel at the now-ness of our conversation. What was then, anyway? There is only now. It will be the same if I circle back to another old friend in another 20 years. It will be now then too.

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