“We have seen the faces of those we know best so variously, from so many angles, in so many lights, with so many expressions waking, sleeping, laughing, crying, eating, talking, thinking — that all the impressions crowd into our memory together and cancel out into a mere blur. But her voice is still vivid. The remembered voice — that can turn me at any moment to a whimpering child” (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, 28).
We all know the feeling. The voice is so present within the mind. When you are about to enter the kitchen, thinking that the person should be there, but in the end he/she isn’t. You go look for him in the bedroom. They’re meant to be there. It’s like it shouldn’t be that the person is lost. But they are. They’re lost forever.
The Individual is an Illusion
I have thought about this recently on a trip to Vancouver. I was reading Bertrand Russell’s The Problem of Philosophy. He was describing the illusions of reality of both the physical and the mental.
There are different personality traits that come out with every friend that you clash with. I am different with everyone that I know. For example, one person may think you are mean because of things you tell him/her. But have you considered that your meanness comes as a reflection from that person’s personality? Others may think that you are extremely nice because it comes across as if you care about them more. So which are you? A mixture? Or never either of those possibilities?
Imagine a rock hitting another rock. Individually they will not change each other only if they clash and start physically exchanging properties. Similarly with people. You are never the same as a person. If you think you are introverted because you are around specific people that bring that out of you, I’d like to argue that you are only introverted in front of them. You can be inclined to introvertedness because of some personality traits of yours or possibly insecurity. But some people and their character traits will tend to bring out different aspects of your personality. You see this often, even the most introverted tend to be extroverted when they meet those people they enjoy with similar likes and dislikes.
In the end, all of this has to be an illusion. There is no ‘Self’. Since we are constantly changing and even these aspects of our characters are in constant progression, there is never once a state of constant existence for your being. You are constantly being influenced into behavior by your surroundings and different character traits that are ultimately out of your control. There is never one person that you are — you are always different.
The Loss of Presence = The Loss of Being
I have friends from England and Slovakia, Spain and the Netherlands, Australia and the United States of America. I don’t see these friends regularly. What I do see is an image that is fixed in my memory. That image changes. Some of those people I have forgotten because of the limited contact I have with them. Some of them have probably passed away.
The memory I had with them is the thing that keeps them alive for me. I do not have their physical presence around me. I do not know for 100% that they are alive. They are present in my mind, however.
The same applies to someone that has passed away: he is still completely alive in memory. The memory doesn’t go away until the person that holds the memory passes. Every day you don’t think about that person, that’s when he starts passing away — because if he gets unfixed from the mind, he’s ultimately unfixed forever. As C. S. Lewis says in A Grief Observed, “They say ‘The coward dies many times’; so does the beloved. Didn’t the eagle find a fresh liver to tear in Prometheus every time it dined?” (70)
So is Shakespeare immortal? Is Immanuel Kant immortal? What about Jesus? Buddha? Gandhi? Or C. S. Lewis? In a way they are. If I was brought up in the illusion that these individuals were still alive, I’d fully believe that they are in that state. But since I have been told otherwise I find this question silly.
Death is only the absence of the person in our physical lives. But the mental remains, and therefore the person remains with you till death parts you.
If you liked this quick little philosophical pondering be sure to like and potentially read some of my other stuff! It would mean a lot to me :)
Until next time, keep reflecting!
Quotes taken from A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis.