Thursday, 10 January 2013

Sitting in Judgment

When I was younger, I used to wonder vaguely what would happen if I were visited by my older self. Now that has been reversed: every now and then, I wonder vaguely what my younger self would say and do if he could see me now (the third person feels appropriate). I’m not sure when, or why, the change occurred. But at least I am not alone in the experience, for Wordsworth had it too:

                        …so wide appears
The vacancy between me and those days,
Which yet have such self-presence in my mind
That, sometimes, when I think of them, I seem
Two consciousnesses, conscious of myself
And of some other Being.
(Prelude, II.28-33)

The child dreams of himself as full-grown because he knows he is expanding; but at some point, one discovers that even the fullest growth is still severely limited. Even the eminent Cardinal Newman said that he who would know much must make up his mind to be ignorant of much. One coalesces into a particular shape, in the interplay of circumstance, self-determination, apollonic callings and apollyonic whisperings. And one’s wide-eyed young self still has many wide-open potentialities one no longer has.

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
(T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, I)

Thus one’s self at a different stage serves as some sort of yardstick, a measure against which to size up oneself, partly because it suggests a different possible way of life. Perhaps this is one good reason to have and raise children: to have an unromanticised, unpredictable younger self, who still has all the energy no longer possessed by the one whose very memory of childhood has aged with him. And to see what course he runs.

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